A startup called Owner wants to help mom-and-pop restaurants thrive online.
Digital ordering and online marketing have become more essential to a restaurant’s survival than ever. While that shift online can be a relatively easy one for chain establishments, Owner cofounder and CEO Adam Guild says independent restaurants can easily end up spending a lot of time and money on delivery services, web design, emailing marketing tools, and other digital tools without seeing a great return on investment.
“The mom-and-pop restaurant owners have been able to cobble together 15 different point solutions to try and keep pace,” Guild says.
Owner, which on Wednesday announced a $33 million Series B funding round, initially grew out of Guild’s efforts to build online tools for his mom’s dog grooming business. The company quickly pivoted to serve restaurants, a larger market, and until early 2020 was focused primarily on driving dine-in business to its customers.
“That was going great until that third week in March,” Guild says, when COVID-19 restrictions caused the company to follow its client base into online ordering and delivery. Now, Owner is typically cheaper than big delivery apps like DoorDash and Uber Eats, charging a flat monthly fee, plus a per-delivery charge that’s usually just $4 paid by the restaurant plus $3 paid by the customer, regardless of the order size, he says.
Owner’s package also includes services like a digital loyalty program for restaurants to offer for repeat customers, easy-to-use website building and online marketing tools, and even custom-branded mobile apps.
“I didn’t have to do one thing to have an app for my diner,” says Timirie Shibley, co-owner of the Doo-Dah Diner in Wichita, Kansas, and an Owner customer. She says the restaurant has always been low-tech, even using an old school cash register and paper ticketing system for its first few years of operation.
“Owner.com solved about five tasks,” she adds, providing reliable delivery, a revamped website that’s helped draw in both customers and new staff, and the smartphone app, which has proven popular with repeat customers who can place their favorite orders and qualify for loyalty discounts.
In general, Owner’s features can help level the playing field between family-run restaurants and bigger chains, says Alt Capital’s Jack Altman, an Owner investor and board member.
“Arming them with the same technology the big companies have, I think it’s good for the world—it’s better for business,” he says. “I think it makes communities more vibrant.”
Guild says Owner, which says it processes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of sales for thousands of restaurant customers annually, plans to invest in continuing to make it easy for busy restaurant owners to operate online. The company recently unveiled new AI features for automatically drafting marketing emails from a prompt, saving time and frustration for restaurant owners who are more experienced in running their businesses than writing copy.
“We’ve got a lot more features like that planned which ultimately aim to simplify and save time for these restaurant owners,” says Guild.