Tonawanda News

June 16, 2013

New app launched to recommend local restaurants

Staff reports
The Tonawanda News

— Local restaurant-goers may be tired of going to the same places to eat. But with the swoop of a finger and the click of a button, a mobile app may be just the treat they need.

Nara, a restaurant recommendation website and mobile app, is officially available for use in cities across the United States. Instead of spending time searching for new places to eat, users can get a list of restaurant recommendations in their area that suits their taste. They can, just as quickly, book a table, order food or book a car service.

Tom Copeman, the founder of Nara, created the company three years ago because he was “suffering from the amount of time” it took to search for a place to eat online. He’d rather spend the time actually enjoying dining.

Copeman was inspired by Pandora, a free, personalized radio app, and wanted to build a similar recommendation engine across lifestyle categories, starting with restaurants.

He said the two most important factors of Nara are saving time searching for food and discovering new places to eat.

“I think life is to be discovered, and there’s nothing better than when you can get a different perspective of life and find something new and exiting,” Copeman said. “Nara enables that for you to happen based on what you already like.”

The response so far has been positive, and Copeman is “extremely happy” with the amount of downloads Nara has received, though he says he can’t yet disclose an exact number of users.

The entrepreneur started the company three years ago. He teamed up with Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists in Boston, Mass., to conduct research and development for two years. He announced the first version of the app, which covered 25 major American cities, in November 2012.

By January, Nara recommended restaurants in 50 cities, and just this week it’s officially available in every city.

The app is a Neural Network, which is an evolving ecosystem of machines that knows how to analyze data and provide users a better and closer match, Copeman said.

The more a user presses the thumb-up or down button, like Pandora, Nara gets smarter and smarter about what the user likes and doesn’t like.

Users can filter search results by cuisine options like American, Asian, French, Indian, Mexican, etc., and/or price ranges of $10 or less, $10 to $35, $36 to $70 or over $70.

Digital DNA travels with Nara users, so if a Tonawanda resident is headed to Seattle for the first time, for instance, Nara will make recommendations based on what he or she likes to eat in Tonawanda.

A few of the most popular restaurants in the Tonawandas on Nara, for example, are Yummy Thai, Smoke on the Water and Mississippi Mudds.

The app also has a social feature in which a group of up to five friends can combine their DNA and Nara will make recommendations based on everybody’s tastes.

So why is the food app called Nara?

The word is a Gaelic term for “happy,” and Copeman’s ultimate goal is to “put a smile on everybody’s face.”

“I think humanity always has great intentions to be happy, and I think the more you can make somebody happy and give them a great experience and save them some time, they’ll be happy. It also means in Native American, ‘north star.’ So Nara is the North Star, it’s a compass that helps you find your way.”

Copeman said it’s an exciting time for his app, and he said restaurant searches are just the beginning for Nara. His company will eventually provide tailored lists of bars, hotels and entertainment areas so users can start enjoying life and spend less time searching for places to go.