Startups prove the future of foodservice is bright
Sometimes the brightest gems can be found in your own backyard. I was reminded of this last week during an event hosted by infographic design company NowSourcing, called #ThinkBig – Food Edition.
The gist of the event was to bring together players from Louisville's bustling food scene and figure out how to better collaborate to get the city the recognition it deserves relative to this specific industry. After all, the Derby City is the home of such giants Yum! Brands, Papa John's, Long John Silver's, Texas Roadhouse, Brown-Forman and many other high-impact brands.
To kick things off, Brian Wallace, NowSourcing's founder and president, said many of us have "ideas" in the shower or in the car, but few of us bring those ideas to the next level, and even fewer execute an entire business on the premise.
But a handful do and aren't the rest of us so lucky?
I was honored to sit on the panel of speakers for the event, but even more honored to meet the many entrepreneurs in attendance and to learn about their fledgling concepts. I met a handful of businessmen and women who have thrown all caution to the wind to make their ideas work, who have put it all on the line to solve restaurant operators' biggest problems.
For example, Stacy Griggs' company, called El Toro (eltoro.com), helps brands more effectively measure their digital ad spend. Griggs said most brands have no idea how much impact their digital ads have and therefore strategies for this newish medium remain ambiguous. The company's patented technology, however, allows companies to precisely target their customers online using banner and display ads.
Weston Hagan is a lab director at Durham Labs, which is currently in the process of refitting a former restaurant for the purpose of concept testing. Hagan said that while the company is still defining its market position, he's excited to start working with the talented food execs and entrepreneurs in the city.
"Louisville has all of the right ingredients for a 'cluster' of innovative concepts that can grow into substantial national brands, so we think this is the perfect place to start our journey," he said.
Jeremiah Chapman, from FreshFry (freshfry.me), said his product extends the life of frying oil by 75 to 100 percent. It does so by removing the impurities of the natural process of frying.
"The point of novelty is that our material can be contained within a pod design that allows you to filter the oil within the fryer itself. This idea is important to use because it simplifies how to use the product. So it becomes a viable option for any restaurant while offering a safe, simple process as well," he said.
Then there's Stephen Haden, co-founder and CEO of SmartLanes Technologies. His concept provides commercial retail developers and property owners with demographics data on vehicle traffic along a road or at a specific location through computer vision technology. The patent-pending technology, called LaneScan, converts images of vehicles taken by either existing or specially emplaced cameras into information about a vehicle's make, model, year, color, license plate, bumper stickers and occupants.
When that information is captured into the company's database, SmartLanes' copyrighted algorithm then assesses how often that vehicle drives to that location, where it's coming from, a profile of the driver's shopping habits, etc. This information can be used to provide site location data for new restaurants.
"This allows us to provide hard data to commercial retailers and commercial developers on the customer base that exists at a location they currently operate out of or are considering to build upon before they break ground," Haden said.
Finally, Kelachukwu Ivonye, CEO of Arrow Food Couriers, discussed his concept's objective, which is to deliver meals from restaurants and specialty kitchens to consumers "in a manner that benefits our customers, the community and the environment." The "hyperlocal" multi-restaurant delivery service operates through the ArrowMyFood brand, bringing food to customers throughout several Louisville neighborhoods, including the University of Louisville.
Ivonye said his company's differentiators include its hyperlocal model, lower prices, real-time tracking, customer rewards system, specialty meal offerings and lower carbon footprint transportation modes – bicycles and hybrid vehicles.
For restaurants seeking a cause marketing angle, ArrowMyMeal is a nonprofit brand that caters to people in need of food delivery. The meals will be either highly discounted or free, Ivonye said, through a partnership with the Lord's Kitchen feeding program. He also plans to rollout a test of ArrowMyChoice, which will focus on delivering specialty meals such as low-calorie and gluten-free.
These companies were just the tip of the iceberg -- so many other conversations and pitches flowed through last week's event, with plenty of follow-ups promised. Imagine, then, what other foodservice ideas are out there – in other showers, at other events, in other cities.
Alicia Kelso Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.