Editor’s note: NOLA APPtitude is an occasional series that looks at New Orleanians who are building better apps. If you have one, or know one, or know someone who has created one, please let us know at email@example.com.
After 33 years in the restaurant business, Tony Tocco knows something about what clients want.
At 27, the Tulane grad started Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge (“back then, there was no parking lot and a crack house across the street”) and has worked front-of-house in such stellar NOLA eateries as Gautreau’s, Upperline and Bayonna. Six years ago, he and his wife Rachel Jaffe Tocco bought Atchafalaya on Louisiana Avenue.
“I’m always asking people, ‘What brought you here?’” says Tocco, now 48. “And seven out of 10 say yelp. And six out of 10 are using it to pollinate their opinion. Crowd sourcing of opinion will always be around, but I thought, ‘There’s gotta be a better way.’”
So Specialus was born. The free iOS app (an Android version is in the works) offers short daily videos from an array of local kitchens detailing the day’s specials, house staples, classic drinks and other culinary offerings.
“The kitchens of New Orleans are the playground for so many talented people,” Tocco explains. “It’s trying to me that so many guys are working so hard and with such passion for not a lot of money. This gives them some face time.”
The concept stems from the “premeal” that traditionally takes place at restaurants in a brief, quiet time just before the doors open, as chefs explain that evening’s menu and offerings.
“You let everything go for 20 minutes and just come together as a restaurant,” Tocco explains. “You let the chef and others present what they’ve done. It’s just a cool thing. I thought, it would be great to give the public access to this.”
Tocco spent a year and a half developing the app. Though “not a techie,” he knows his way around the Internet and social media. Early pitching and testing brought strong reception, and with the help of Michael Myers of High Seas Consulting, he came up with a user-friendly interface with a searchable database of culinary clips.
“I reached out to about five restaurants and then started building it,” Tocco said. “It all came together – the video, the chefs, Facebook.”
Any restaurant that wants to participate can register online at specialus.com. Then it’s up to participants to upload videos. Tocco helps them with promotion, social media and film basics.
“With video, you have to have a story to tell. With specials, you have a story that’s easy to tell, and new content every day. Chapter one is ingredients, chapter two how you orchestrate the dish, chapter three the creation.”
About two dozen local restaurants already are on board, including Dick and Jenny’s, The Franklin, Commander’s Palace and Martinique. They have used Specialus in various ways – not only to showcase specials, but also to deconstruct house specialties or convey atmosphere and ambiance.
But what Tocco really likes about the concept is its collaborative nature.
“We’re inviting everyone under one banner. This is a New Orleans thing. We’re just celebrating what New Orleans does so creatively.”
As with most things digital, Specialus has the ability to grow organically, depending on how people use it. Tocco sees it as a great fit for pop-ups and food trucks, “and chefs love seeing what other chefs are doing.”
Specialus, which launched just over a month ago, has garnered enthusiastic response. Millenials instantly get it, Tocco says, as does the New Orleans foodie community. But the appeal is broad, believes its creator.
“Just as John Madden breaks down a football play, a chef can break down a dish, play by play,” Tocco says. “It’s not just information. There’s entertainment there, too.”
A networking event demonstrating the Specialus app to interested restaurants, chefs and food professionals will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 30, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Atchafalaya Restaurant. It’s free, and refreshments will be served, but spaces are limited. Please RSVP to hold a spot to Emily@bondpublicrelations.com.