WhatToOrder is the only dining resource that starts by showing you every single restaurant in your chosen location and does so without altering the ranking of results in any way. Download the app HERE for free.

“The fire captain called me up and told me, “Thank you for taking care of us. Even before Corona. You guys have always looked out for us”.

Joe Paolillo Jr, one half of the A&S Fine Foods Pork Store in Gravesend, Brooklyn is shouting to me over the phone over the hustle and bustle of employees prepping in the kitchen. Of the 20+ businesses we’ve spoken to since the quarantine has been put in place in NYC, this, is by far, one of the busiest. 

Since the Pandemic hit, aside from their regular clientele, A&S has fed every single area hospital, fire department, and police station, even partnering with The Mets to feed workers. They’ve pivoted their business from catering and sales of fine Italian meats, and prepared foods to also, delivering fresh fruits, vegetables, and groceries to the neighborhood. For Easter, the group also drove around the neighborhood dressed as the Easter Bunny handing out treats to kids (while socially distancing, of course). 

The impact of a small business on their community is most relevant now. Multitudes of restaurants have stepped up, providing much-needed resources to their communities where the government has failed.

It’s a jarring difference considering newscasts have reported that 75% of restaurants will be shut down for good after the Pandemic. NYC legends like Lucky Strike, Pegu Club, and Gotham Bar and Grill all closed permanently, that citing loss of income, lack of federal loan support, and an overall drop in clientele. For neighborhoods like Chinatown, those numbers are even higher. 

We first profiled A&S Fine Foods last year, the 50-year-old shop manned by father and son duo, Joseph Paolillo Sr, and his son, Joe Paolillo aka Joe Pork. Pre-pandemic, the shop was a neighborhood staple, with loyal customers returning from all across the country, and having visited the shop across generations. 

In an earlier report inspired by this Food and Wine article, we wrote about the predatory commission fees by food delivery apps like Seamless, UberEats, Caviar, and their effect on small businesses. 

Several of the restauranteurs we interviewed described the apps as a double-edged sword – they needed the brand awareness, and for some, the delivery drivers, but the 25 – 30% commissions were simply eating away into their margins. 

TJ Hyder, General Manager of Benny’s Burritos in the West Village mentioned, “After all is said and done, we make a 3% profit margin on deliveries”. On a $25 order (not including taxes or delivery fees), that’s a profit of 75 cents.

On top of that, the commission percentage each restaurant agrees to pay has a direct impact on its default search ranking, meaning the more you pay, the higher your rank. When you’re searching for a burger to order, you’re not seeing the closest shops to you, you’re getting whoever paid the most. 

For the mom and pop shops that rely on word of mouth, and are without social media savvy, or the extra funds to pay these sites, they get pushed to the bottom where they’re rarely seen, or perhaps, not even listed at all. 

When you’re searching for a burger to order, you’re not seeing the closest shops to you, you’re getting whoever paid the most. 

In a preliminary search, we did amongst some of the mom and pop shops in our neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, A&S did not appear once amongst UberEats, Caviar, or Seamless. Ironically, the closest and fastest delivery UberEats suggested in our area were the holy trinity of megacorps –  Mcdonalds, Taco Bell, and Chipotle. 

Think of it as a digital elephant graveyard, with older, smaller, or non-English speaking businesses getting royally shafted over. The discovery of a small business in a neighborhood is simply nonexistent online, nor in one place. 

“Preserving the city’s culture of small, independent restaurants is a part of our mission long before the lockdown.  This is why we list as many restaurants as we can in all five boroughs, including many places that can’t afford to maintain a website”

Rob Fraley – founder of WhatToOrder

Rob Fraley, the founder of WhatToOrder hopes his new app can help solve this. Unlike traditional sites that use a “pay to play” type search methodology, the site has an open search engine for finding food and restaurants, sans ads, and sans reviews. This gives every restaurant, no matter how small, a fair opportunity to be seen.  

You can also search by more specific criteria, like dish name, ingredient combinations, reservation, and delivery partners, even offering 20 dietary and environmental filters like gluten-free, dairy-free, grass-fed, and GMO-free. It’s a free and fair marketing and distribution channel for restaurants (and a fun discovery tool for you to find what’s good in your area). 

Democratic, but like, actually democratic. 

On top of that, the app includes thousands of restaurants across all five boroughs, not just the hot spots with a good marketing budget. For some of the most affected businesses like Chinatown with several cash-only, non-digital shops, WhatToOrder could be just the saving grace they need to get online in front of many eyeballs, quick.

“To support the small, independent places, you first need a way to see who’s still offering takeout right now”

 Using the app, you can still access any of the delivery apps and even check to see if the shop has its own commission-free online ordering system instead of calling up the place directly to save them the fee. It’s a Win-Win! 

Small businesses are essential to keeping NYC alive. It’s how a Korean Uzbek keeps her culture alive at Cafe Lily. It’s where families get together for their Sunday fix of Indian food at Jackson Diner. It’s where neighbors can call A&S and be greeted by Joe Pork, or Matt, and a friendly face and for a moment feel like everything is back to normal again. 

Small businesses build communities, and up to now, there hasn’t been one place to show them. Until now. 

You can download the app WhatToOrder for free HERE. Know a small business that might benefit from being featured? Email us at hello@ciaooomag.com.

team ciaooo

ciaooo! is an NYC based editorial site, newsletter, and events company. We're the local's guide to conquering NYC. Follow us on Instagram @ciaooomag for the latest. Nice to see you here!

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