The Underdog family helps restaurants manage websites and online ordering systems

Nothing is certain except death and taxes – and outdated restaurant websites. To be fair, the restaurant staff are more focused on delivering your soup while it’s still steaming than on updating this PDF menu from 2018. But digital presence is key to the success of any business, and given the past three years, a poorly designed website or online ordering system can be the death knell. For example, a Denver nonprofit, The Underdog Family (TUF), sprang up in 2020 to help small, local restaurants build and run effective websites and storefronts.

You might be wondering, “With all the problems in the world, why do restaurant websites deserve their own nonprofit?” TUF founder and president Chin Weerappuli had no background in nonprofits or website design when the idea came to him. he just wanted to help a local restaurant. In early June 2020, Weerappuli took some friends for a trip to Welton Street Cafe. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and amid racial justice protests across the country, he was eager to support a black-owned restaurant, especially one a few blocks from his home, where he had dined several times before.

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Welton Street Cafe, known for its soul food classics, got essential help from TUF in 2020.

Molly Martin

“They were packed. There was a line outside the door,” he recalls. As this line progressed, he heard new customers online mentioning that they had never heard of the place and saying that they wished the decades-old establishment had a system of online ordering (at that time Welton Street didn’t even have a website). When he reached the host’s booth, Weerappuli says, he was greeted by an employee who told him that while he was seated, the kitchen should have closed twenty minutes ago. When Weerappuli mentioned that all the online information he found showed different times, the employee admitted that the cafe had no way to correct this misinformation.

“A small business is unequivocally difficult to manage,” says Weerappuli. “Then you launch a pandemic and run a new business with a digital storefront, and it’s a whole new business.” Preparing perfectly crispy fried chicken and catfish doesn’t necessarily translate to computer proficiency, especially in a small family restaurant that may not have the resources for marketing and tech support.

Weerappuli believed there had to be a way to help Welton Street Cafe and other small businesses – the underdogs, as he puts it. He spoke to friend Derrick Knudsen, now vice president and director of the TUF board, with the initial idea of ​​just connecting the cafe to existing for-profit resources that could help with website design, online ordering and social media integration. “It added up very quickly,” he laughs.

Instead, the couple came up with the idea of ​​recruiting friends and colleagues with the necessary skills and a desire to help their community. Knudsen says neither he nor Weerappuli are designers or software pros, but they knew a lot of people in those spaces. If they and co-founder Darian Nocera could establish a network of volunteers, each of whom could work a few hours a month for free, they could create websites and online ordering systems that wouldn’t make customers want to pull themselves hair. out — no charge for restaurants. Knudsen describes it as “a non-profit social organization of friends and colleagues doing good work”.

Click to enlarge Chin Weerappuli, Genn Dickerson, owner of Genna Rae's Wings & More, and Derrick Knudsen in front of Genna Rae's.  - THE UNDERDOG FAMILY

Chin Weerappuli, Genn Dickerson, owner of Genna Rae’s Wings & More, and Derrick Knudsen in front of Genna Rae’s.

The Underdog Family

The basic Underdog Family service includes the creation of a template-based website with online ordering capability and maintenance – including updates of hours, information and menu items – for a year. TUF estimates its cost for this at $500, thanks to its stable of volunteers. (Purchasing the same services could cost a company thousands of dollars.) After twelve months, “family members,” as Weerappuli calls them, can take over the maintenance of their site at no cost; TUF also offers training for this.

Alternatively, for an annual tax-deductible donation of $500, the nonprofit will continue to operate a company’s website. So far, all sixteen members of the TUF family have chosen to donate and let volunteers run their website, freeing them to focus on the food and the faces that make a restaurant experience truly memorable.

The volunteers devote only four to six hours per month to the project. “We are doing everything we can to ensure [volunteers are] not overworked,” says Weerappuli. Knudsen agrees, saying time management keeps volunteers passionate and engaged in the work. work.

The non-profit organization focuses on helping BIPOC-owned restaurants and women; the first because statistics indicate that they have disproportionate access to financial resources than white and male-owned businesses, and the second because the hospitality industry has notoriously thin margins. “At least half of the companies we’ve built sites for wouldn’t be here right now without our support or some other means,” Knudsen notes. “Our direct impact on the business is unprecedented.”

Click to enlarge Konjo Ethiopian Food is one of the TUF "family members." - THE UNDERDOG FAMILY

Konjo Ethiopian Food is one of TUF’s “family members”.

The Underdog Family

Weerappuli agrees: “Our value for money is maximized in food and beverages.” None of TUF’s current partners had a dedicated website prior to their partnership; their Facebook pages were their only digital presence. A huge downside to this scenario is that customers couldn’t place online orders through Facebook, and third-party delivery apps like Grubhub and DoorDash — the only option for these restaurants’ online orders — charge up to 35% of charges.

Weerappuli recalls one of the first restaurants TUF partnered with: “They were making $7,000 a month on Grubhub and paying 35% of it.” After creating the spot’s website and placing the order online, he says, “It’s almost $30,000 [per year] in extra income just because of the lack of fees – and we helped them grow their business. »

To date, The Underdog Family has created and maintains websites for sixteen local businesses including Genna Rae’s Wings & More, TeaLee’s Tea House, Konjo Ethiopian Food, La Catrina Grill and Golden Sky Sushi in addition to Welton Street Cafe. He is always looking for volunteers and new family members; visit the TUF website for more information.

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