Worcester-native entrepreneur Nick Belsito is someone who, instead of going to chain restaurants, always asks where anyone in the neighborhood can find some good food. “I always want to know where the locals’ favorite places are,” says Belsito “I grew up in my dad’s deli, so I’ve always had this affection for small, brick-and-mortar types of businesses. I’ve also liked contributing to the smaller providers and individuals.”
After living in San Jose, California and being exposed to the startup scene over there, Belsito took his passion for going out with friends to restaurants and formed his own startup, BEELINE, in 2013. BEELINE was a service that allowed users to book reservations for hospitality/entertainment venues, such as nightclubs and restaurants, in advance.
Working side-by-side with local restaurants in several markets, including Boston, Belsito saw how communication within a restaurant, especially between employees, could be problematic.
“It’s amazing how some of them still relied on email and landline phones,” says Belsito. “I read some statistics that 34 percent of employees ignore calls from their boss. Some kitchens would even still use sticky notes.” As someone who has worked in a kitchen as a line cook, I can say that statement is all too true. Kitchen managers will either send out emails, or post information on a cork board, expecting the cooks to be aware of what they said.
The other half of the problem is the sometimes problematic situations people will run into when they, as customers, try to communicate with the business themselves. “It’s crazy how some of them lacked the ability to communicate with their customers,” he says. “With a restaurant, when it’s loud it can be hard to speak with someone over the phone. And what if there’s a request they don’t want to say out loud?”
While working at BEELINE, Belsito found texting clients to be a far more effective technique, as well as personal, for communication. In an interesting study, nearly 90% of text messages sent are read daily and many smartphone users use SMS messaging more than making actual phone calls. These studies, and his personal preference for text messaging, gave him an idea.
As BEELINE was winding down, Belsito started testing the waters with his new idea. By speaking with locals and tourists, as well as employees and owners of several restaurants and bars in the Boston area, he discovered how they can use technology similar to text messages to improve communication. The idea proved to be successful and Belsito found himself another entrepreneurial pursuit. In the summer of 2016, OpenCity was founded.
OpenCity is an integrated CRM platform with one goal in mind; improve communication within the hospitality industry between the businesses and customers. Through the platform, customers can make requests, including reservations or have specific questions answered in a more efficient fashion. The dashboard itself will appear familiar to anyone who has used a text messaging app. “You know how you log onto a website and this chat window pops up,” Belsito asks describing how restaurants will use the platform. “It will be similar to that.”
OpenCity has two versions; one built for computers and the other for smartphones. The mobile version is made more for businesses and has a focus on live messaging. The intent for this version is to improve communication between employees, by making the conversations flow quicker.
The company released their private beta earlier this month and has been working side-by-side with hospitality service companies in the Greater Boston area. “Nearly every client has utilized it in different ways with varying degrees of success,” Belsito says of the company’s early triumphs. “You don’t want to overcomplicate the communication process with restaurants.” Their website also offers potential clients the opportunity to join an ever-growing wait list for future access to the platform.
The team at OpenCity is currently a mix of full-time and part-time employees, with several of them working within the hospitality and “food tech” industries. The startup also has a working relationship with the WPI University Tech Advisor Network (TAN).
OpenCity currently has plans for expansion, not just within its employee ranks, but with what hospitality businesses they can work with. As part of their growth plan, Belsito wants to include hotels as a part of the end user base. “As part of our vertical growth, we want to start including hotels,” he says. “Hotels could potentially use the platform for room reservations or certain room requests.”
While the company may be a little under a year old, Belsito is determined to make someone’s night out a little less hectic and also go along with his longtime passion of helping, the smaller, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. “It’s great for businesses because it improves foot traffic,” says Belsito. “But it’s also great for those looking to go out and not have to deal with the stress of calling up a restaurant for reservations or requests."
Images courtesy of OpenCity.