In 2016, couple Anthony Edwards Jr and Janique Bradley, together with their partner Justin Johnson, created the EatOkra app to help users find Black-owned restaurants in their vicinity. Now the app is expanding to create a marketplace to showcase the products of Black and Brown food vendors.
As the country went on lockdown and activities ceased during the pandemic, restaurants were among the hardest hit financially; particularly Black-owned restaurants. Reports show that 41% of Black-owned businesses were forced to close at the start of the pandemic, which is the highest of other racial demographics (Latin: 32%, Asian: 26%, White: 17%). EatOkra is hoping to offer a boost in support by promoting a variety of food items including beverages, snacks, and condiments.
“We have Bob’s Blend Coffee, Mike D’s BBQ, Hot and Spicy Hot sauce company, Camella’s Kitchen, and Original French Press,” said Edwards, naming just a few of the vendors available.
Edwards also shared why it was especially important to him to highlight businesses in the Black and Brown communities.
“I think about generational wealth and exposing the younger generation to new entrepreneurs who are Black, who are doing things but just don’t have the finances or support. They actually have amazing products, but due to a lot of reasons, they’re just not able to get their product in front of enough people to really build that buzz to get into the grocery store.”
It’s a continuation of the work the app was created for. Edwards and his wife were looking for Black-owned restaurants to support in the Brooklyn area. At the time, Edwards was a software developer, who had recently left the military and completed college. He decided to use his skills to fill the gap he identified.
“I was looking for something to build of my own and be an entrepreneur. But most importantly, I wanted to gain new skills for the next development job down the road. So what’s better than building a product that people are using? That’s how I thought about [creating] EatOkra. And, if I made a couple of bucks doing it, that’d be great.”
The reception was more than Edwards anticipated. People started using it and requesting more in terms of restaurants and areas covered. By 2019, they realized they had a sustainable business model and had EatOkra incorporated.
From its inception, the company has been self-financed by the couple and in 2020 they received an unexpected boost at the height of the pandemic. In the midst of the unrest related to centering Black lives, EatOkra became the go-to resource for people to support Black-owned restaurants, who were ultimately hit the hardest during COVID-19. So far, they’ve been able to help connect approximately 350,000 people with Black-owned restaurants across the country.
“It just became that tool,” said Edwards. “Now we’ve been able, through the support of the community, through our crowdfund, through corporate sponsors like Pepsi and UberEats, we’ve been able to grow and hire more people and, really expand our brand.”
In addition to the new marketplace, the company is also working on providing a solution to allow people to place orders through the app for pickup or delivery.