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How this husband-and-wife team are making it easier to find Black-owned restaurants

Now that their app, EatOkra, is becoming a household name, the couple is looking to help restaurants scale their businesses.

In true millennial fashion, food and apps are at the heart of Anthony and Janique Edwards' love (and business) story.

The couple met on Tinder and will celebrate three years of marriage in August. While dating, their love language became trying new restaurants together. Now they're sharing that love on EatOkra, an app the pair launched in 2020 to connect people to more than 11,000 Black-owned restaurants across the country.

Connecting through food

In 2016, Janique had recently moved to Brooklyn when she started dating Anthony.

"My furniture and appliances were on backorder when I moved," she said. "So, from a practical standpoint, we kind of needed to venture out all the time to eat, and I wanted to support Black-owned businesses. That was very important to me because I wanted to get a sense of the community and I feel like Black-owned businesses really help you do that."

As their relationship progressed, they continued searching for Black-owned restaurants where they could share meals together.

"We were having this dilemma of, 'How do we locate these businesses? Where are they?' We were searching, doing all the digital searching on Google and things like that. And it was not easy."

Anthony and Janique Edwards fell in love exploring new restaurants together.
Anthony and Janique Edwards fell in love exploring new restaurants together.Rhea Kay

Janique recalled saying to Anthony, "You should build an app that will make it easy for people to find Black-owned businesses." And he did.

EatOkra connects users to Black-owned restaurants in their city. And the name of the app itself symbolizes connection.

"The okra seed was brought over from West Africa to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade," said Janique. "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."

'It just caught on like wildfire'

Anthony is an Army veteran and software engineer who "read a couple books on how to build an app" before making the first version of the app in 2018, he said.

"So we went through like two iterations of the app over those two years. And we wanted to kind of improve the experience, add more features and things like that," before launching the current version in 2020. EatOkra is now available in the App Store and on Google Play.

The tech industry is notoriously hard to break into, especially for Black and Latino people, but Anthony said the real gatekeepers for them were the community members.

"They're essentially our gatekeepers. They're posting about EatOkra. They're telling their friends about EatOkra through word of mouth. They're writing us emails of, 'Thank you, you have this app that we're able to use.'"

Apple named EatOkra as one of five apps that embodied the trend of 2021: connection.
Apple named EatOkra as one of five apps that embodied the trend of 2021: connection.Rhea Kay

Janique said downloads skyrocketed from 40,000 to more than 300,000 during the summer of 2020 and that support helped put them on the map. She said the pandemic and social justice movements following the death of George Floyd helped sparked the increase.

"The conversation at that time shifted to, OK, how do we rally behind the Black community? How do we support the Black community? And then also, how do we support Black owned-businesses? At the time, we had no marketing budget. It was just really a passion project for us," she said. "Because of that conversation, a lot more people started tweeting about it and sharing it on Instagram and just all these mediums and it just caught on like wildfire."

That popularity and authenticity has earned EatOkra success and recognition. At the end of last year, Apple named EatOkra as one of five apps that embodied the trend of 2021 — connection — for bringing people together in a meaningful way.

'How can we expand on our advocacy?'

EatOkra now lists more than 11,000 Black-owned restaurants. Anthony said new listings are added after users flag restaurants to them or owners submit a form online.

The couple said now that their app is becoming a household name, they're looking to help restaurants scale up their businesses.

"At the beginning, we just kind of really wanted to prove that supporting Black-owned restaurants was something that is important to people," said Janique. "And so we started with our MVP, which is the directory. But now we're in a position where we're like, OK, how can we expand on our advocacy? And what can we do to help business owners, outside of providing them with this digital tool that would allow them to connect to potential customers?"

Behind the scenes, they've been developing an e-learning platform to provide business development resources, financial support and webinars to help restaurant owners to scale their businesses. EatOkra brought on a new partner, chef and restaurant consultant Jason Wallace, to help with the business side of the app.

"We built the app from the perspective of consumers and people who appreciate these spaces, but not really understanding the ins and outs of the industry," Janique said. "And so, you know, we were fortunate enough to partner with (Wallace)."

Anthony said commerce is a lane they want to grow into. Currently users can find eateries through the app, but they can't order food from it. A commerce and marketplace add-on would make that function possible — so they're looking into it.

Newlyweds with a new business

We've all heard the saying "Never mix business with pleasure."

"It's crazy. It's purely insane," Janique joked in regards to being married business partners.

But the Edwards said their marriage benefits from their business and vice versa — and it all comes down to communication and setting boundaries.

"We're newlyweds and we have a new business," said Anthony. "Normally, the biggest thing is communication. So we really make that an intentional, like really intentional point in our relationship to make sure that we're communicating on when we're talking about EatOkra, when we're talking about family, when we're talking about raising our daughter. Setting boundaries are very important, therapy and mental preparation is very important to our lives."

"There's just a need to always compartmentalize things and have a space for business, but also have a space for family and friendship, too, because that's the foundation of our relationship," added Janique.