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Accelerators / Apps / Food and drink / Startups

This app aims to help Baltimore restaurants, one to-go order at a time

A team from Towson U and Johns Hopkins built Flave. Here's how they're aiming to boost profits for local restaurants, without gouging owners with commissions.

Flave App courtesy photo

Baltimore startup Flave is looking to gamify the dining experience and boost sales at local restaurants that have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Now in public beta, the app arrives in a changing landscape for local restaurants. Amid rising COVID-19 cases, Baltimore will prohibit indoor and outdoor dining on Friday. So, as in the early months of the pandemic, delivery and carryout will be the only way restaurants can function during quarantine. Many restaurants turn to third party delivery apps like Grubhub and Uber Eats, but those take a commission that cut into the razor thin profits of restaurants that have gotten even thinner during the pandemic.

Jal Irani, a computer science professor at Towson University and John Hopkins University, along with cofounders James Soldinger and Derek Battle, created Flave to give restaurants some of the same benefits of third-party apps like Yelp and GrubHub, but without the fees.

“They take a decent amount from each transaction,” Irani said about third party delivery apps. This was the case before the pandemic, when the team started building. “What we were intending on doing was being an aid to the restaurant by saying, hey, if you dine in, we will give you points for doing so,” Irani said.

Then the pandemic hit, and the model changed to encourage users to order takeout. The app that is currently in beta lists all local restaurants in Baltimore on a map, and gives each a point value. When a user orders takeout from a restaurant in Baltimore and takes a picture of their food, they’re rewarded with points called “Flave Cash.”

In turn, the cash can be redeemed for deals at partnering restaurants, or donated to a local restaurant. When a local restaurant reaches a certain amount of donations, a gift card is bought from that establishment and given to an active Flave user.

Promotion and deals like what Flave offers typically come at a cost on other apps. GrubHub can take 3% to 15% from a local restaurant depending on whether the restaurant has its own delivery fleet. That can go up to 20% if you add in promotional cost. Earlier this year, a Facebook post went viral depicting restaurant getting $376.54 from $1,042.63 of sales.


href=”https://www.facebook.com/goodgiuseppe/posts/2990762630989325″>Wednesday, April 29, 2020


The app is a home-grown product made by a group of cofounders who are from Baltimore, as well as Towson and John Hopkins University students and alums. This fall, it was part of the first cohort of the Towson University StarTUp Accelerator.

Users can sign up at the website. For restaurants that want to be a partner, email Irani at jirani@towson.edu.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

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