For husband and wife team Anthony and Janique Edwards, their creation of the EatOkra app was a combination of passion and timing. Originally from Harlem, Janique moved to Brooklyn in 2016. Excited and determined to explore the borough, Janique and Anthony were eager to seek out and support Black-owned businesses in the area. However, they quickly realized that finding these black-owned businesses was proving more difficult than expected.
“We were really looking for black-owned businesses to support during this time. And Anthony was also really trying to improve his skills as a developer, wanting to build an app but really not knowing what he wanted to build,” Janique said. “And because we had this problem finding companies – it wasn’t something very practical, I kind of made this suggestion out of frustration that he create an app that would make it super easy to find these companies .”
After a series of trial and error, Janique and Anthony developed this seed of inspiration into EatOkra, an app that highlights black-owned restaurants. Although the app uses modern technology, EatOkra is also a mission of social justice, committed to the idea that the promotion of black-owned businesses is essential for the community. Since its launch in 2016, EatOkra has grown exponentially and now proudly features over 11,000 black-owned restaurants, giving users a platform to discover truly delicious and unique local eateries.
How the EatOkra app works
So how does EatOkra work? For starters, the majority of restaurant and business information on EatOkra is crowd-sourced, which means the app relies heavily on user recommendations. For example, if a user comes across a restaurant they think is suitable but is not already in the database, they can recommend it on the app. Once this recommendation is received, a team from EatOkra then reviews the restaurant and fills in any information that was not included by the user. As part of the user experience, users can also leave reviews and ratings for different restaurants. Finally, another useful feature of the app is its ability to bookmark restaurants for future visits. This is especially useful for people traveling to different cities. By bookmarking places in advance, EatOkra makes it easy to find and try restaurants in a completely new location.
As an app, EatOkra has a sleek design, with a definite focus on usability. The app is designed to be geotagged and will show all viable restaurants in its database within a 20 mile radius. From here, users can also filter, search, or query for specific restaurants or cuisines, which can range from South American barbecue to Haitian cuisine. This simplified and user-friendly configuration has been a great success for EatOkra. In 2021, that success was rewarded when EatOkra was one of only five apps to receive Apple’s “Trend of the Year” award for successfully connecting people in meaningful ways.
EatOkra’s plans for the future
For Janique, promoting black-owned businesses isn’t just a macro issue — it’s also one she’s experienced in her own family. Previously, Janique’s older sister owned a nail shop in Harlem, quickly making the business a valued part of the community. Unfortunately, despite her beloved status, the venture was short-lived. After just three years, the nail shop closed, a closure that deeply affected Janique.
“I had the opportunity to really see someone who was really ambitious, who had this dream and who wanted to do a great job in his community, unfortunately, failing due to lack of resources, lack of education and lack of mentorship,” says Janique.
After seeing this effect on her own family, Janique wanted to be part of a solution to alleviate these barriers. Due to a historical lack of resources for the black community, this story of a local establishment closing down is sadly all too common. Often many black business owners and restaurateurs are at a disadvantage when it comes to supporting their businesses due to a lack of mentors and resources. To tackle this systemic problem, Janique and Anthony are launching an ambitious project within EatOkra, an online learning platform. It will essentially be a series of educational courses designed to give black-owned small businesses the tools they need to succeed. To get started, the first course on the e-learning platform will focus on the CEO Mindset, focusing on the psychological and leadership perspectives needed to run a successful business. But this first foray is just the beginning – subsequent courses will include topics on everything from marketing to menu development. Together, Janique and Anthony plan to launch the first phase of this online learning platform in 2022.
It is precisely this unique and dynamic blend of technology, community and respect for heritage that makes EatOkra a peerless technology application. Empowerment and ownership are both carefully balanced and championed by EatOkra, an understanding that is even relevant by close examination of the app’s chosen name – okra. This humble vegetable with African origins is an essential ingredient of the American South, deeply rooted in African-American history.
“The okra was a seed brought by the slave trade. Okra is a very popular ingredient in Southern cooking, dishes like okra and stews. EatOkra is really a nod to our heritage. It’s really a nod to our family, our history and our culture,” said Anthony.