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OnlyPlates: Northwest Arkansas’s Newest App Startup

It’s Friday night at 6 pm. It’s the night to go out for a family dinner or meet up with friends, but after a few lazy searches for new restaurants leave you empty-handed, you start to wonder: “Am I missing something fantastic that just isn’t making it into Google?”

OnlyPlates is a local app focused on solving the problem of finding food you like. Founded in Northwest Arkansas in 2023, the company has built an iOS and Android app that focuses on rating plates of food instead of entire restaurants. Now, they’re looking for local NWA food lovers to help them spot the best food.

“This started as an exercise in data structure. All of the current ratings systems start with big units like restaurants, and they’re good at that,” Nathan Hart Allen, Founder and CEO of OnlyPlates, explains. “But they tend to miss all the bits inside the venue that really matter. Those pizza places with an astounding spaghetti plate. The bar menu with twenty mediocre plates but one really good one. How is anyone supposed to know?”

Allen didn’t just arrive at this problem on a whim. With over 20 years working as a creative for agencies in the CPG space, he’s been in this game before. Back in 2018, he was Creative Director for Collective Bias, an influencer marketing agency that was acquired by Inmar in 2016. As a team member and sometimes partner in startups since then, he knows what a success track looks like.

“For the last six years, I’ve been the guy people call for branding, website design, and anything that surrounds that,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of successful ideas with amazing brand presence, just killing it, but also watched the ones that fail. If you’re paying attention, you can see a few things in common with the ones that make it.”

That’s where OnlyPlates started – with an idea that seemed to pass the litmus test of other startups. A simple hypothesis: no one can find food they want because of a lack of data structure. Google searches are crowded with fast food and ratings from grumpy “Karens” about bad service. Taste preferences are deeply personal, cultural, and nuanced. They often transcend the overall ambiance and service of a restaurant, and yet no one has spent the energy to map it with data –– yet.

Taste, the OnlyPlates founder contends, is a missing dataset that AI technologies can begin to study.

“If we have enough data on the flavors a user actually enjoys, we can start to build that truly accurate recommendation algorithm that will help diners, chefs, restaurateurs, and more,” he says. “Problem is, we need a whole lot of plates and ratings and users to get to that point of accuracy.”

That’s why OnlyPlates has decided to launch slowly over time. They’ve defined “regions” where food can be ranked against each other. The first region is Northwest Arkansas, with Austin, New Orleans, 30A Florida, and others on the roadmap.

OnlyPlates is actively looking for food ambassadors – taste hunters who are passionate about finding the best burger, pizza, po-boy, or just all-around good food. By the end of 2024, they aim to have 5,000 reviews on the platform in NWA alone. To get there, they need your help. Download the app for iPhone or Android and help catalog the best food NWA has to offer.

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