This App Wants To Connect You With Black-Owned Restaurants

Who out there remembers when phone apps seemed limited to the basics: Words With Friends, Instagram, Google Maps? Suffice to say, the times have changed. These days, it can be hard to keep track of all the apps available for download, each designed to help us in our day-to-day — from finding an available parking space to identifying plants to (who could forget?) connecting with a potential mate.

And in the world of eating out and ordering in, there is a whole other host of apps dedicated to helping diners and drinkers satisfy their every possible whim. Want to order in some booze? Just open Drizly. Dying to get a table at a booked-solid bistro? Try IKnowTheChef, which promises to help navigate long restaurant lines. Craving some food truck eats but don't know where your favorite meals-on-wheels is at the moment? Simply install a food truck finder app and have at it. And if you're specifically looking to spend your hard-earned dollars at a Black-owned restaurant, well, there's an app for that, too.

EatOkra links diners with a network of Black-owned restaurants

EatOkra is an app ... brought to fruition thanks to an app. As the couple recalled in an interview with "Today," EatOkra's co-founders Anthony and Janique Edwards first met back in 2016, not long after Janique moved to Brooklyn. And — like so many of us these days — they found each other through a dating app (in their case, Tinder). For their early-on dates, the new couple tried finding places to eat in Janique's new New York neighborhood, with the hope of supporting Black-owned spots where possible; but they found the search limiting and difficult when relying on just Google searches alone. "You should build an app that will make it easy for people to find Black-owned businesses," Janique remembers telling Anthony.

And so Anthony did. EatOkra launched its first version in 2018, as a way for users to easily find Black-owned restaurants, bakeries, food trucks, and bars in Brooklyn. Today, the app covers eateries in several more cities across the nation, with a database of more than 11,000 restaurants for eaters to choose from.

The app continues to grow

As for the name? "The okra seed was brought over from West Africa to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade," Janique Edwards explained to "Today." "My family is from South Carolina, those are my roots, and Anthony's family is from Louisiana and Alabama. So the name really was just a way for us to give a nod to our culinary heritage and our family and our roots and the role that food has played in our lives and how we connect with each other and connect with our community."

EatOkra saw its first major jump in growth in 2020, specifically May of that year, per Protocol. Anthony told the tech-centric outlet at the time, "We went from about 500 restaurants that we had to process to about 5,100 in less than 30 days." Downloads of EatOkra skyrocketed by over 830%, from 12,000 in all of 2019 to 100,000 by early summer 2020. 

And the app just keeps growing, even as it contends with new competition today. Building upon their success, the couple hopes to expand their advocacy efforts in the near future, as reported by Paste, including offering an E-learning platform to aid Black-owned restaurant owners with issues ranging from menu development to marketing.