The EatOkra App Helps You Find Black-Owned Restaurants Near You
"Our mission is to provide a food-themed directory that encourages fellowship through one specific avenue, Black food."
If you’re looking for Black-owned restaurants to support, there’s an app designed to help you find great ones near you to suit your cravings. EatOkra is a location-based app that helps users find Black-owned restaurants nearby. The app’s directory, which has grown thanks to user-generated suggestions, currently includes 2,600 restaurants across 30 U.S. cities. Users can browse categories such as local eats, vegan/vegetarian friendly, soul food, African cuisine, Caribbean cuisine, or breakfast and brunch. Each restaurant listing includes the cuisine/style of food, as well as hours, location, photos, a map function and a newly added feature of user-generated ratings and reviews.
Anthony and Janique Edwards, a New York-based husband-and-wife team, founded EatOkra in 2016. As stated on EatOkra’s website, at that time, they were inspired by the energy surrounding the ongoing discussions regarding Black lives and the preservation of Black spaces. In light of recent events, including global protests related to social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, these conversations — and the need to support Black-owned businesses — have taken on increased importance.
Then, as now, the Edwardses wanted to give something of substance back to their community, and for them, "Nothing embodies this idea of community more than the act of feeding someone or coming together to eat or be fed," the duo explained on Instagram.
But the app’s initial spark of inspiration came from a personal need. Janique had just moved to Brooklyn from the Bronx to be closer to Anthony (who she was then dating) and the pair wanted to find and support a Black-owned restaurant in the neighborhood.
"We did a search online and found a bunch of lists, blogs and articles that listed Black-owned restaurants," Janique says. "I was like, 'Wouldn’t it be cool if you took this information and made it into an app? If you created something where people can find these restaurants, but in a way that was easier, less convoluted?'"
The idea took off from there. Anthony, who is the app’s developer, and Janique, who oversees operations and design, launched the app in the fall of 2017. Justin Johnson, who designed the app, also designed the logo — a sliced okra pod — which in turn inspired the app’s name.
"The significance of okra was that it was a seed that was brought over during the slave trade. So, we knew right away that okra had to be in the name," Anthony says.
In the last month, the EatOkra team has seen a surge in the number of app downloads, as well as in the number of crowd-sourced restaurant submissions. The team has 3,500 new restaurant listing suggestions to review, 2,000 of which have been received in the last week alone. (Feedback or restaurant submissions can be made directly in the app or on the EatOkra website, and restaurants can be located anywhere in the U.S.)
While Janique acknowledges that the app doesn’t solve all the challenges Black business owners face, and that radical systemic change is still necessary, she believes that EatOkra is a vital tool to help Black-owned restaurants gain more visibility.
"I do feel confident that the app is something that can galvanize people and get them thinking about where they spend their money, who they support and what steps they might want to take further to ensure that things are fair," she says.
To enhance EatOkra’s mission of providing "a food-themed directory that encourages fellowship through one specific avenue, Black food," the Edwardses plan to expand the directory by including other Black-owned food and beverage businesses, such as food trucks, caterers, wineries, wine shops and grocery stores. They plan to launch a crowd-funding campaign in the coming weeks; in the meantime, you can support EatOkra’s efforts by donating here, and support the restaurants by choosing to order their food.