Students with dietary restrictions know all too well the feeling when they can’t order a meal at a restaurant because it either contains nuts, gluten, dairy, meat or an allergen.
To save time and stress, Edible, a new Ann Arbor startup currently on only Android brought to market this fall, aims to help users find local restaurants that accommodate their dietary restrictions or diet.
Edible CEO and co-founder Mike Copley, a University of Michigan alum, brought the app to market this fall after developing the idea during his time as an undergraduate. The team, in addition to Copley, includes Ish Baid, chief technology officer and co-founder of Edible and University alum, LSA senior Lucas Ryan, who works with marketing and public relations, and SI junior Elle Shwer, who works with branding and graphic design.
“I started this at MHacks during my undergrad here,” Copley said, referencing the annual 36-hour hackathon hosted by University students. “Once I graduated, I was thinking about going full-time.”
The app crowdsources the information from its users, who list meals they have purchased, highlight the dietary restrictions that are accommodated at the restaurant and review their overall experience.
“It’s almost like Yik Yak the way we set up the feed,” Copley said. “So it’s just a list of menu items from various restaurants. Each one has upvotes and downvotes.”
In the app, users enter their dietary restrictions or diets and then are given an appropriate list of local food items from menus of restaurants across Ann Arbor, according to Copley.
“The main positive feedback is that people enjoy how the feed displays specific menu items,” Copley said.
University alum Luke Patterson said he downloaded the app because he follows a vegan diet and the app helped him make informed decisions about where to go out for food in Ann Arbor. He noted that most restaurants do not have nutrition facts readily available.
“It can be tiresome to look up menu items every time I go out to eat,” Patterson said. “I downloaded Edible to help me find vegan items when I go out to eat, instead of having to figure it out myself or ask the staff constantly. I don’t have to worry about if they have food for me or not after I get there and see the menu for myself.”
Now that Patterson has graduated, he said he would like to see the app grow in the future.
“I would like to see it expanded past the Ann Arbor area, especially because I don’t live in Ann Arbor anymore,” Patterson said.
Copley said the app has mostly appealed to vegans, as well as gluten-free students, and he hopes to reach out to more students with allergies in the future. Copley, who himself is allergic to dairy and tree nuts, said the biggest goal is for people to be able to easily find food that fits their diet.
“If it’s being used actively and it’s solving that problem for people with restrictive diets, I would say that’s the goal,” Copley said. “I think a lot of the reason it started was because I personally have a couple of severe allergies. So that was the root of it. And then through talking with a lot of different people, it started to open up my eyes and see it can help people with diets — like vegetarian, vegan or gluten.”
Business sophomore Avantika Tiwari, who does not eat beef, said she downloaded the app because it helps her and her vegetarian, vegan and pescatarian friends find places to eat on campus.
“It’s always so difficult to find places to eat that cater to specific dietary restrictions,” Tiwari said. “With the help of this app, you can easily find restaurants that will leave everyone happy when it comes to meeting up for dinner with friends.”
Tiwari said she has noticed a growing number of students choosing restricted diets lately.
“The biggest advantage to me is the fact that there are a lot of places around Ann Arbor that I didn’t even know about that catered to specific dietary restrictions,” Tiwari said. “I feel like a lot of people have been going vegan, vegetarian, or are trying to be healthy and avoid specific meats.”
Copley and Lucas both said that once their iOS app is released in the Apple Store, they will be able to reach a wider audience. The app is slated to be released this January.
Moving forward, Ryan said they have considered a potential partnership with the University’s Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center once the iOS app is launched. In addition, they plan to continue listening to feedback on their Android app to keep improving its functionality in the future.
“We’re really excited to get more involved with University students,” Copley said. “It’s really cool, thinking about how it could help people.”