A year ago, Sam Asher knew a lot about oysters, tech and finance, but no so much about launching the world’s first seafood-centric review app. Fast forward to today, and his app Pearl is transforming how seafood-lovers and restaurants deal with the business of eating and selling bivalves.
A long-time lover of seafood, Asher, whose family originally hails from Boston, learned about oysters during childhood summer vacations to Martha’s Vineyard and the Massachusetts coastline. The abundance of available varieties and flavors fascinated him. However his interest only recently turned from gastronomic curiosity into a legitimate business. With the help of savvy tech advisors, his own experience building digital communities and knowledge of the seafood world, Asher set to work creating the “first real-time app about food”. Deciding to avoid the already crowded marketplace for apps focusing on “reservations, reviews and delivery,” the tech founder instead wanted to “help teach people about oysters, just like wine.” He wagered the app could unlock value in the market by aggregating and promoting information for oyster buyers and consumers alike. A new Pearl was born.
Launched this past June, the app and desktop site enable restaurants and bars anywhere in the US to upload their daily menus using a consistent and mobile-friendly approach. For businesses constrained either by a lack of tech know-how, time to manage their social media presence or the budget to invest in complicated CMS systems, Pearl provides a means to reach consumers in one place. For consumers, Pearl helps to locate seafood dishes available at nearby bars and restaurants then tag dishes or flavor profiles (such as different oyster varieties) they love the best. In turn, the customer-generated descriptions help educate and attract new diners to those restaurants.
The focus on education, menu management, ingredients and flavors helps Pearl distinguish itself from pure review platforms like Yelp. Another selling-point (though the app is free to download) is it’s designed to be “fun.” That might explain Pearl’s current “5 star” rating on the iTunes app store. In fact, the user experience is critical to the app’s success. The more people use it and contribute information, the more relevant the app becomes, the more it gets downloaded.
Pearl is currently only available on iTunes, though Android users may be able to test out the app at a later date. This is a deliberate choice: iPhone customers statistically tend to spend more on apps therefore, so the premise goes, more likely to pay for seafood on a regular basis. The iPhone also remains the most popular device for US smartphone users in 2015.
Luckily for restaurateurs, if the app can educate and grow demand for responsibly-sourced produce, it can also help sell it.
However Asher also sees Pearl as a public service helping to boost awareness for good oysters and seafood. As customers become more discerning about their seafood, so the onus is on restaurants to ensure their produce meets expectations. Luckily for restaurateurs, if the app can educate and grow demand for responsibly-sourced produce, it can also help sell it. With apps such as SuccorFish already improving seafood traceability, it’s not hard to imagine a future where technology seamlessly supports the entire business of sustainable seafood from port to plate.
For now, Pearl delivers efficiencies and free marketing to seafood restaurants alongside education and dining information for consumers. It currently provides the greatest wealth of information to customers in Denver, Seattle, Washington, New York and San Francisco. However as Asher notes, Pearl has also revealed some surprises about the taste for seafood around the nation: they have app users in Kansas, for example. Don’t see any information for your local area? Asher will personally respond to all mails within ten minutes to review suggestions and add data.
With awareness for oysters growing — with additional thanks to local projects like the New York Harbor School’s Billion Oyster Project — and a proliferation of tasting menus around the city, Pearl is helping to put seafood on the map.
Featured photo credit: Instagram/pearloysterapp