Concordia alumna launches free restaurant matchup app, Feed Me
Appealing or not? The decision can be made at the simple glance of a perfectly grilled avocado toast surrounded with fries. A swipe left and the dish disappears, and now a delectable sushi platter tempts you for lunch.
Searching for a nearby restaurant that suits your cravings and budget has just gotten easier and, frankly, more fun with Concordia alumna Amie Watson’s new app, Feed Me. The concept is similar to dating apps like Tinder. Rather than swipe left for a date, though, let Feed Me introduce you to a wide selection of restaurants, bars and cafés based on your indicated preferences.
“You open the app, and you will have more than 30 options in a four-block radius, but you can also plan for the weekend, look for a nice French restaurant,” Watson said about the app’s benefits. “[Feed Me] helped me discover restaurants in places I already lived.”
Watson is a freelance journalist based in Montreal who has contributed to outlets such as the Montreal Gazette, National Post, MaTV and Global TV. She graduated from Concordia University with a graduate degree in journalism in 2015. Originally from St-John’s, N.L., Watson moved to Toronto to earn her undergraduate degree in classical percussions at the University of Toronto. It was also in Toronto that she developed a passion for world cuisines while reading food reviews by Steven Davey—a food critic and musician in the city’s Queen West scene—in Now Magazine. “I hadn’t had much money, but once a week I would take myself out for lunch at one of his top cheap-eat places,” Watson said.
After a while, she decided to learn the recipes she was enjoying so much and began to appreciate the traditions and history behind them. When Watson moved to Montreal, she was exposed to new types of cuisines that were not as predominant in Toronto. “Tunisian, French Caribbean, Ghanaian [cuisines]—I was able to find and cook new recipes,” she said.
On her path to become Montreal’s Steven Davey, Watson worked as the food editor at Midnight Poutine—a local food, indie music, fashion and arts blog—for several years, and eventually ended up doing work for their weekend podcast. “It was then that I realized I was way more into freelance food writing than into my classical percussion master’s,” she said.
In 2011, Watson launched her blog, multiculturiosity.com, to write restaurant and meal reviews and share healthy recipes. As she delved further into the food writing world, she developed an intolerance to lactose and gluten. Nonetheless, this did not prevent her from keeping at her passion. “I have recipes full of bread on [my blog],” she said as she discussed her love of baked goods.
Three years later, Watson participated in a Yelp Hackathon—a two-day event during which teams have to come up with a useful, funny or cool project that uses Yelp interface. This is where the Feed Me app was conceptualized.
“I wanted to write about all these restaurants, and I wanted somewhere to put it,” she said. The Yelp Hackathon provided participating teams access to its accumulated data about locations, trends and reviews, and Watson’s team came up with a project that improves existing restaurant apps.
When conceptualizing the app, Watson said it was important for her to have all the information—the reviews, the photos, the addresses—all in one place with an easy and simple interface, similar to Tinder. “When I first used Tinder, I thought it was fun. You get sucked in easily, kind of like a game,” she said.
Feed Me gathers reviews from restaurants in over 30 countries thanks to Yelp’s interface. Reviews and pictures of the restaurants are not selected by the establishments themselves but rather by the clients who have posted their own reviews on Yelp. “It is awesome because when you are travelling you can use it wherever you go,” Watson said. Montrealers have the added benefit of Watson’s own local reviews appearing on the app.
Some of Feed Me’s interesting features are the categories that a user can choose from to narrow down their search—everything from world cuisine, TGIF and vegetarian, to business dinners, sweet treats and even safe break-up venues. (A “safe break-up venue,” for example, includes at least one of the following elements: a back door, an affordable menu if one needs to pay for themselves or a not-so fancy ambiance.)
Watson decided the project was worth pursuing since it was a finalist at the hackathon, and she funded it herself. “I had money I could have responsibly put aside or put it into a passion project, so I put it into the passion project,” she said.
However, after a failed first attempt, Watson was told by user experience specialists that she had to redevelop the app. “I needed a new team, more money and strong business plans to get the loans I assumed I would need,” she said.
With the help of Yes Montreal—a Quebec-based organization that helps people find jobs and start or grow their business—she created a business plan and was able to get loans from Futurpreneur and Canada’s Business Development Bank.
Due to many obstacles, it took four years for Feed Me to go from being a concept to a final product, available in the Apple and Android app stores since August. Watson said she felt that Feed Me was what she needed to create, that no obstacles would make her back down. “There are moments when you are frustrated, irritated and you don’t think about it for a day,” she said. “[But then the passion for it] just creeps back into your mind.”
According to Watson, the app reached 12,000 downloads in its first three weeks and received positive feedback. Its success comes from being financially responsible, she said. “I am not just throwing money at this and crossing my fingers,” she explained, adding that mentors, financial guidance and business plans, along with the mindset of a responsible business owner, are all key to becoming successful.
Feed Me has many plans going forward, including offering discounts for restaurants and creating partnerships with food festivals. Currently, it offers a monthly give-away of $50. Users who share the app with their friends are automatically be entered in the draw when their friend downloads the app from the reference link.
“I want Feed Me to be the go-to restaurant search app, for it to be number one in the world, but in Canada first,” Watson said.