UT-Austin students create website to support locally owned, Black-owned restaurants

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of LocoEats | Daily Texan Staff

Three UT students created a website for users to find and support locally owned and Black-owned restaurants. 

LocoEats aggregates locally owned restaurants based on the location of the user. It also features different categories to help users find Black-owned businesses and different cuisines. 

Kevin Qi, a co-founder of the website, said his motivation to create the website came from witnessing many local restaurants close due to COVID-19. 

“During COVID-19, I was witnessing a lot of closures of restaurants, small businesses, and I really wanted to do something to help,” Qi, a computer science honors and business honors sophomore, said. 

Tejas Mehta, a co-founder of the website, said he was already working on a similar website before Qi reached out to him.

“After showing (my website) to Kevin, we both knew that the technology used behind the website could really be expanded to help a much larger audience and make a real impact,” Mehta, a computer science honors and business honors sophomore, said.

Since Yelp does not have a specific filter for finding locally owned restaurants, the team began creating a dataset that classified restaurants. 

Aadhithya Kannan, a co-founder of the website, said the reviews, locations and ratings for each restaurant come from Yelp. The website shows the restaurant’s phone number, address, Yelp rating and price range. 

Mehta said the algorithm used to find locally owned restaurants was similar to the one the team used to find Black-owned restaurants. 

“While we were making this, a lot of awareness was spreading and we realized if we can help locally owned restaurants, we can definitely port this feature over to Black-owned restaurants as well,” Mehta said. “With all the awareness going we were like, ‘This is something that we could definitely help a lot of people with.’”

Earl Potts Jr., a computer science and African and African diaspora studies junior, created a Black business directory app called “Keep Austin Black,” according to previous reporting by The Daily Texan.  

Mehta said the website also has a crowdsourcing feature, which allows users to report if there is a mistake so the algorithm can improve over time.

Qi said the team is working on incorporating food delivery apps, such as Uber Eats and DoorDash, into their website and is planning on launching Android and iOS apps.

Over 2,700 users have viewed the website so far, with 11,000 page views total, Mehta said. He said the website traffic grows as Instagram influencers, such as food bloggers, share the website. 

“(Mehta) reached out to the Dallas food bloggers; I reached out to Austin food bloggers,” Qi said. “I did do a lot of active cold messaging, (direct messages), and we were really happy and surprised by the response we were getting (from) a lot of these food bloggers.”

Mehta said he observed the hard work of locally owned restaurants and wanted a way to support them. 

“It struck a sad chord in my heart to see many of them shutting down due to the pandemic,” Mehta said. “I'm sure many (people) share a similar bond with (their) favorite locally owned restaurants. This is the time to give back for all of the delicious and heartfelt meals they've prepared for us.”