EatOkra: The App Changing the Game for Black-Owned Businesses
In 2016, Anthony and Janique Edwards wanted to find black-owned restaurants in New York that they could support. They kept getting directed to the same trendy, popular locations but had difficulty discovering smaller, lesser-known restaurants like the ones that they wanted to support. During their search, they found a lot of press releases and blogs about these lesser-known locations but nothing that compiled these restaurants together to give them the attention they deserved.
Anthony and Janique Edwards decided to solve this problem themselves. Thus, EatOkra was born.
What is EatOkra?
Though it started small because they’re self-funded, the app now spans more than thirty cities around the U.S. including New York City, D.C. and New Orleans. They cover eateries big and small, from restaurants to coffee houses to pop-ups and food trucks. It’s compatible for both Apple and Android and grows primarily through word-of-mouth; because the couple funds the app with their own money, they don’t have excess to spend on advertising.
It’s fitting, anyway, since the app communally sources their information: Users submit their favorite restaurants to the directory, either by choosing “add business” on the app or messaging the company on their social medias. People can also rate restaurants through one of four emojis and the founders have plans to add the ability to review restaurants as well.
The app has four categories to help users find what they’re craving: Caribbean cuisine, breakfast and brunch, soul food and local eats. They even include directions so that users can easily find their way to new locations they want to try.
They chose to use “okra” in the name as an homage. Okra is a seed snuck over to the U.S. during the slave trade. It’s now a culturally relevant ingredient in a lot of cuisines and as such is a fitting name for an app that brings black-owned restaurants into prominence and facilitates a greater sense of community.
Why is it so important to support black-owned businesses?
Supporting independent small businesses like restaurants is always important. They operate under extremely thin profit margins so it’s necessary to patronize them to help them stay in business.
Now the world is in flux. Times are unprecedented; the COVID-19 pandemic has raged in the country since March, when widespread shutdown orders made people take the virus more seriously. Restaurants have shut down for months and only got license to reopen their dine-in services within the past few weeks, some early as May and others late as June. After only having takeout and delivery services open for months, if they didn’t close down completely, they can still only seat a limited amount of dine-in customers. Thus many of these restaurants still aren’t turning a significant amount of profit, and small businesses continue to suffer.
Just as states started to reopen nonessential services all over the country, the death of George Floyd in police custody sparked Black Lives Matter demonstrations all around the world which snowballed into a much larger movement advocating against police brutality and for dismantling systemic oppression against black people in America. Many people want to show their support however they can; for a lot of them, that means patronizing black-owned businesses to show solidarity with, and give funds to, the black community during this time.
This isn’t an isolated incident: EatOkra has noticed a recurring trend where they see a sharp spike in users after racially-charged incidents garner national attention. The recent Black Lives Matter protests led to a 4450% increase in daily downloads of EatOkra, and they’re not the only directory for black-owned businesses that experienced newfound popularity—though they did experience the most. Black Wallet, Black Nation and more all saw a steep increase in downloads immediately following Black Lives Matter protests.
The support isn’t just because people want to find and support the black community right now, although that is a factor; however EatOkra also provides, as the founders describe it, a safe gathering place for people of color to “meet and eat without fear of profiling and harassment.”
To foster a sense of community, EatOkra’s next goal is to connect owners and chefs with local organizations and community initiatives that combat food insecurity, helping individuals and families put food on the table.
When Anthony and Janique sought to uplift and support the black community, they thought that supporting them via food was the best way to bring people together.
In their own words, the inspiration for EatOkra came from the deep-rooted belief that this is the best way to support these businesses and help hungry customers in the process: “Nothing embodies this idea of community more than the act of feeding someone or coming together to eat or be fed.”