Against Odds, Tufts Graduates Work to Keep Restaurants Open with Startup
According to new projections, one in four Massachusetts restaurants might never reopen again as a result of pent-up financial pressures from the pandemic.
Tackling those odds head-on, Tufts University graduates Greg Kulchyckyj, A19, and Shehryar Malik, A19, are giving restaurants a fighting chance with TableTab – a startup the pair cofounded last year that facilitates contactless dining.
“I think the concept of what the restaurant is, it’s really like this local landmark that encapsulates the community around them. At face value, it’s a way for people to connect. I think we all have our experiences at restaurants that have different parts of our lives, whether it’s a date or a business meeting,” said Greg, Co-Founder and Head of Business Development for TableTab.
TableTab is a platform developing solutions for restaurants that allow customers to order food and pay for their meals, making the dining experience contactless. Currently, TableTab has more than a dozen restaurant partners, and its roster includes popular spots like Boston Burger Company. As part of TableTab’s business model, the platform is currently free to use, and restaurants cover payment processing fees associated with credit and debit cards that they would typically incur.
“We're here to help restaurants,” said Shehryar, the startup's Co-Founder and CEO. “We're looking to solidify our business model and validate that our product can truly be a positive impact, which we're already seeing today.”
TableTab is currently working with each restaurant to create custom solutions that work with their existing tools and technologies. For some restaurants, TableTab provides hardware and software to support the contactless experience. In the future, TableTab plans to expand its capabilities and offer paid features.
According to the National Restaurant Association, Massachusetts was home to 15,797 “eating and drinking place locations” in 2018. If the outlook on restaurants holds, nearly 4,000 of those establishments would be forced to shutter their doors, impacting the almost 350,000 people employed in the foodservice sector.
With large implications for the future of dining riding on the takeoff of services like TableTab, Greg and Shehryar are working around-the-clock to get the word out and refine their startup.
“Every morning, we need to make sure our systems are stable. Whenever I get up before our restaurants are live, we do some systems analysis to be stable,” said Shehryar. “If we have an update to push out, we push it out directly, and during the day, it might be a call with interested investors. Greg is usually focused on emails and we have a huge product roadmap that we need to get through.”
“It’s definitely the cool work,” Shehryar highlighted.
For many high-growth startups, the journey is never easy. The realities of building up books of business and pipelines are opportunities to make an impact. Greg and Shehryar can recall their experiences of going door-to-door to pitch their service in a pre-COVID era. Restaurants with reservations about the technology no longer operate under the same conditions as they did a year or even several months ago.
Their field research “encapsulates that cycle, that iterative process the restaurant industry has gone through, from one year where a restaurant could go from not even entertaining this technology to actively seeking a solution,” Greg noted.
When it comes to the pair of entrepreneurs behind TableTab, their entrepreneurial readiness has been developed through their time at Tufts University. TableTab, originally started as Dyne, competed in the 2019 Tufts $100k New Ventures Competition and tied for first place in the general technology track. Since their time on campus, Greg and Shehryar agree that “in some ways, nothing has changed, and in some ways, everything has changed.”
“For Shehryar and me, I think our interest in trying to digitize order and payments came out of the efficiency that our generation experiences. When you look at going to a restaurant and then asking for your check, it could take several minutes, but you’re ultimately going to spend 30 seconds to get your Uber ride home paid for and ordered,” said Greg. “We want to bring in a lot of that technology that our generation is used to in other industries and bring it to restaurants.”
Their technology brings immediate utility to restaurants as dining establishments look to cut down on customer interaction, but in a post-COVID society, Greg and Shehryar see their technology continuing to enhance the dining experience. Servers can spend less time getting caught up on POS systems and spend more time interacting with guests, for example.
As no one could have predicted how the dining experience looks today, no one predicted the new needs restaurants face. Or, at least, predict with great certainty.
As they often do, entrepreneurs sometimes have to make decisions based on gut feelings.
Greg purchased the domain “contactlessdining.com” with little foresight on the world's new reality, ultimately forgetting about the $12 purchase. The domain has become an asset to their startup while affirming that sometimes gut feelings can hold the largest insight.
In the innovation space, Greg and Shehryar’s startup and journey shine light on an otherwise uncertain time.
“We were able to launch a product. A lot of times, companies don’t get to that stage. I think launching the product is definitely what I would like – at least for my work and progression – to be remembered by,” said Shehryar. “The second thing is the motivation for engineers. When I first started this around 15 to 16 months ago, when I first started coding the app, I had no experience working in mobile development.”
As Massachusetts’ phased reopening continues and the traditional dining experience returns, restaurant doors will only close until the next day of business, not forever.
“Small businesses are the cornerstone of our society. They keep our economy moving and growing. Restaurants are suffering right now incredibly, so if we have even a small role to play in their recovery and spearheading the resurrection of the restaurant industry, that’s definitely something we would want this venture to be remembered for,” said Greg.