This App Was Founded During the Pandemic to Support Independent Food Businesses
Minimart is an “anti-capitalistic effort” that’s easy-to-use and low cost.
Every week the Coronavirus epidemic rages on, there is a new mandate that tells food and beverage business owners around the country whether they can or cannot sell food depending on where they are located. In addition to pivoting business models to suit our current reality, business owners must also face the challenge of rifling through the dozens of apps to host their menus—apps that often require high service fees.
But what if there was a simpler, cheaper option? A new player has emerged called Minimart, which is not a delivery service nor a website developer, but a third party platform that allows anyone from grocers to restaurateurs to bakers to host a simple online menu and preorder form directly to their customers on an ad-free website.
Born out of the pandemic in March 2020, Minimart has now helped everyone from solo pastry chefs to restaurant pantries generate over $500,000 in sales. What sets Minimart apart from its competitors is its tiny cost to users, otherwise known as Minimartyrs: instead of extravagant commission fees and exorbitant sign up costs, Minimart was free for the first nine months from its inception.
Minimart started as an app crafted with a single person in mind but has since transformed into a platform helping hundreds of independent businesses. “I actually built it for a shop called Soon Mini for a friend of mine who started like [an] Instacart but direct from independent farmers to consumers,” Eli Silverman, the creator of Minimart and restaurant menu hosting site, Resto, explained. “She [had] all these connections with independent farmers and really believes in local consumption and production and supporting small farms. And so she had some friends that had immunocompromised situations and she decided to cut out all the touch points between a grocer and consumers and so she was doing grocery boxes.”
Over the course of a weekend, Silverman—who has a background in computer science and visual art—agreed to develop an easy-to-use online storefront for Soon Mini. After all, his own freelance work had been drying up due to the pandemic. Simplicity was key. It had everything an uncomplicated app for food orders would need: a display for a menu, price points, and a place to slot in quantities.
"Minimart does exactly what I need it to do without having to manage confusing bells and whistles."
Shortly after the launch of Soon Mini, a different friend reached out about developing something similar. And then a San Francisco vendor joined. Then Silverman got involved with supporting Bakers Against Racism, and from there, a variety of pastry chefs and bakeries joined Minimart.
Chelsea Kravitz, who is otherwise known by her business moniker, The Bakery Lady, learned about it through a Bakers Against Racism bake sale. Kravitz is both fulfilling orders as The Bakery Lady while simultaneously getting ready to open a restaurant this summer. “I don’t have a POS system or restaurant website with a menu/ordering platform yet, and before Minimart, I was making google forms for ordering and slowly losing my mind along with it. Minimart is super easy to use and I’m so lucky I found it.”
The app itself is the answer to credit card fees and courier services that charge insurmountable fees and huge percentages from small businesses for using their services. In 2020, over 100,000 restaurants closed, and from April to September of last year, the four largest delivery services—DoorDash, UberEats, Grubhub, and Postmates—brought in $5.5 billion of combined revenue, double what they made in 2019 and before the pandemic. According to Food & Wine, apps like these can take a commission upwards of 30 percent.
Minimart is less than a year old, but now has a community of over 200 Minimartyrs and counting. The app was completely free for the first nine months of its existence, and continues to be free for small businesses until they have sold their first $1,000. After hitting that threshold, the pricing for the service is $7 dollars per month plus one percent of sales that’s tied directly to growth. If sales are down, so are monthly costs.
“When I got laid off, I needed to make some quick decisions about how to move forward with my cake business—once a side hustle and now a full time gig—so I reached out to have [Silverman] help me with a storefront,” Bronwen Wyatt, another Minimartyr with a cake business called Bayou Saint Cake, said.
For Wyatt, the best features of Minimart are the easy-to-read spreadsheets that come from customer preorder forms, the simplicity of the app, and Silverman himself. “Eli is super responsive anytime I've had an issue, and he's a real human being rather than a corporate facade. [And] Minimart does exactly what I need it to do without having to manage confusing bells and whistles.”
Although Silverman studied computer science and art, he spent several years working as a cook in New Orleans, which provided him a broader understanding of how the restaurant industry functions. And while he was cooking, he was also building brand logos, developing websites, and designing menus for other independent restaurants in New Orleans. Though Minimart arrived years later, to Silverman, it has been a natural progression. “[The food industry] is what I care about, it’s what I like to do, it’s a community that’s always supported me and given me a lot,” he said. “And I love working with food people because they are no bullshit.”
“With a little bit of technology, I can build something that’s immensely helpful for so many people,” Silverman said. “I’m not this tech bro who’s like, ‘I’m gonna disrupt the world of courier services’ because I hate that shit’. But I’m someone in food who knows technology.”
Minimart has been a solo endeavor since its inception, with feedback and input from friends and business owners. As it continues to grow, Silverman has found himself on the phone with potential clients and those already within the Minimart fold. “I love people and food and being able to feel like I’m helping an individual that has a face, that has a story, that has a kid—that’s really meaningful,” he described. “I feel like as soon as I turn it into more of a numbers game and faceless analytics, it’s gonna feel more vacuous. I really want to be able to continue to work with customers so I feel like it’s a worthwhile thing.”
Silverman is hoping to onboard a staff member to help with the high demand, but plans to keep overhead as low as possible so Minimartyrs can continue to be the main beneficiaries. “[I’m] trying to do the most with the fewest resources as most kitchens operate these days.”
In a post-pandemic world, Silverman hopes to have an IRL Minimart food festival or pop-ups in the future with the community he’s cultivated over Zoom. “Maybe I won’t have forty five minute phone calls with strangers anymore but like, getting people together… that would be really meaningful.”