Picture this: you’re traveling somewhere new and when it comes time to eat you want to get a feel for some local flavors. You’re not going to want to chow down at the nearby Applebee’s in that sort of situation, which is why South Carolina native Rich Winley and Philadelphian Dan Mall whipped up an iOS app called — creatively enough — NoChains.
NoChains has already soft launched in Austin, Texas and Winley’s native Greenville, SC, but the two-person team has just set their sights on a much more prominent target for their next public beta: New York.
“We originally thought about going to the Bay Area, but it’s very noisy.” That, plus the sheer volume of restaurants in New York City and across the bridge in Brooklyn convinced the small team to set their sights on the East Coast instead.
Winley admits there’s nothing wrong with chain restaurants, but when you’re out in a new place, chances are you don’t want to dine exclusively on familiar fare. And that’s the issue with services like Yelp, or so he says. They’ll show you exactly what eateries are within spitting distance, but hang out in certain parts of the city and you’re likely to see your list of results cluttered with repetitive names.
Not so with NoChains — right now, the app plays home to menu data for hundreds of restaurants across the city, which works out to between 400,000 and 500,000 menu items that the service keeps track of. The team’s approach was a simple one: the founding team leaned heavily on Elance and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to feed those menu items and prices into the NoChains backend.[gallery columns="5" include="829204,829205,829206,829207,829208"]
All that would mean very little if the app itself wasn’t terribly easy to mess around with (not to mention rather handsome). Once you’ve selected one of the four launch markets, you’re immediately taken to a landing screen that cycles through different recommendations for notable nearby eats. Hankering for something specific? A small slider with common food choices (think pizza, burgers, barbecue, fish, dessert) sit just below those rotating recommendations, as does a search bar to help accommodate your more esoteric desires. One touch brings up a map of local eateries too, in case you’re hungry enough to settle for whatever happens to be close by.
The only real issue at this point is that the app is so new, there are very few user recommendations to be found for New York restaurants. It’s precisely that sort of social proof from native city-dwellers that will ultimately help NoChains become a trusted source for food recommendations, but the team still has a ways to go before it gets to that point. That said, there’s a strong case for using NoChains purely as a menu app for a large swath of the city’s restaurants (that’s how I’ve been using it these past few days), and as more people see that sort of value in it, the more likely they’ll stick around and drop hints about what’s good and what’s garbage.