The restaurant industry is reorganizing and evolving to meet the challenges presented by Covid-19, and ecommerce will play a key role in the evolution, according to leaders of a Clearwater software firm.
“There are big changes in customer behavior in terms of takeout and delivery,” said Chris Sullivan, chairman of the board of Omnivore Technologies and co-founder of Outback Steakhouse. “It will take a while for customers, at least some of them, to get comfortable visiting restaurants … There also will be people who say this is the first or second thing they are missing most and they can’t wait to get back to the restaurants. It’s going to be a challenging time for the industry, and there are going to be a lot of changes in the relationship between restaurants and customers, especially with payments, delivery and ordering.”
Omnivore offers a platform that allows restaurants to easily participate in ordering and payment technology without overwhelming themselves, said Mike Wior, CEO.
“We’re seeing restaurants start to take ecommerce very seriously. A lot of restaurants were getting into it over the past three years or so, but this forced the issue for everybody. Everyone had to stop dabbling and start getting serious about the different opportunities that they can put their menu on for delivery and takeout,” Wior said.
“As restaurants bring in more and more third-party technology and channels to work with, the overhead in supporting those goes up. Our goal and value as a technology is make it so they can participate in as many of those digital channels and technologies as they want to while reducing the overhead.”
Wior, Sullivan and Dan Singer, Omnivore’s chief operating officer, talked about the future of the restaurant industry with the St. Pete Catalyst following Omnivore’s recent $3.6 million capital raise. Sullivan participated in the round, as did insurance executive Lowry Baldwin and ConnectWise co-founder Arnie Bellini.
The company will use the funding to continue to scale a key technology, Menu Management System, a web-based control panel that puts restaurants in full control of their ecommerce and third-party delivery strategies, ranging from DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub to online ordering and in-restaurant kiosks.
“Traditionally the way that is managed is with a separate menu for each partner you are working with. So if you want to change a price, or take something off the menu, even temporarily because you are out of steaks, you have to go to all of those different places to turn that one steak dish off,” Wior said. “With Menu Management, it’s a single source of menu truth across all those different channels, so restaurants have one place they can go to make price changes, add new items, limited time offers, increase pricing temporarily for surging. Whatever they want to do, this gives them a central administration point to do it.”
There’s a bottom line impact as well, as a restaurant gets additional orders from its partners and through its various channels.
“As long as they are in a positive margin inside of those, that is money in their pocket,” Wior said.
There’s also the issue of brand relevancy.
“Consumers are starting to expect their brands to be digitally available wherever they are. You want to be where their customers’ eyes are,” Wior said. “It’s becoming critically important they have technology to manage all those different digital engagements.”
Omnivore’s goal, to become a platform that helps restaurants orchestrate and manage various technologies across many partners, means restaurants won’t have to choose a one-size-fits-all solution, and allows restaurants to build a consumer experience that fits their brand, he said.
Omnivore, with about 50 employees, recently relocated its corporate headquarters from Silicon Valley to Clearwater. Wior had worked with Sullivan in the Tampa-St. Pete area before Wior moved to Silicon Valley to launch Omnivore, but he said he realized fairly early on that the Valley’s tech ecosystem wasn’t what it used to be.
“Silicon Valley used to be a tech renaissance, where you would run into each other walking down the street. People would talk in coffee shops. Now because of these large campuses, a lot of people are holed up in one campus and they don’t leave, they eat lunch there, and it just doesn’t have as much value as it used to create by having all those companies in one place,” Wior said. “It’s also a very expensive place to live, and it’s very hard to hire employees and keep them.”
While Silicon Valley is becoming a tougher place, especially for small startups, the rest of the country is becoming more interesting, with plenty of technical talent.
Florida offers a pro-business environment, a great university system and a lot of talent, Sullivan said. The Tampa-St. Petersburg area has had a renaissance over the past 10 years, said Singer, who previously was vice president of finance for FairWarning, a Clearwater-based global privacy company.
“When I started at FairWarning in 2012, there weren’t a lot of technology and Software-as-a-Service companies here. It was very slim in terms of people who founded and built successful companies … I don’t even know if there were a double digit number back then. What I’ve seen over the last 10 years has been remarkable. I don’t necessarily think we’re at the level of an Austin or Atlanta yet, but I think that’s where we’re headed,” Singer said.
Omnivore’s newest investors have ties to existing backers.
Sullivan is a longtime friend of Lowry Baldwin and his family. Baldwin is chairman and co-founder of BRP Group (Nasdaq: BRP), an insurance distribution company headquartered in Tampa. Sullivan is on the BRP board of directors and is an investor in SiteZeus, a real estate technology company co-founded by Lowry Baldwin’s sons, Keenan Baldwin and Hannibal Baldwin.
“Lowry and his family decided to get into got into the technology business with some of their own innovative efforts, and they took a look at Omnivore and liked what they saw, so they decided they wanted to invest,” Sullivan said
Another new Omnivore investor is Arnie Bellini, co-founder of ConnectWise. Bellini was introduced to the company by Lee Arnold, Omnivore’s vice chairman and executive chairman of Colliers International Florida.