Following a recent trend of student-run online businesses, three sophomores started menu directory DCMenus.com last semester.
Dubbed “the complete students’ guide to D.C. restaurants and bars,” the Web site lists menus of local takeout and delivery restaurants, as well as information about area clubs and bars. Thirty to 35 eateries are registered, broken up by distance from three area universities and type of food.
DCMenus.com includes area-specific sections for students at American and Georgetown universities and GW. Area restaurants listed include Charlie Chiang’s, Sushi to Go, The Little Caf?/Bistro Med and Pizza Movers and Calzones, among others. There are American, deli, Indian, Italian and Tex/Mex restaurants, plus 23 other types of venues.
Students Colin Beaver, Heidi Mayer and Rajiv Patnam came up with the idea last year when they could not find a menu at 2 a.m. and wanted to order in food. Patnam said the trio circled their residence hall but could not find any students with decent menus.
“As a student, you just can’t find paper menus,” said Beaver, who designed the Web site and is in charge of technology-related issues. “So we thought, ‘what if we put (menus) on the Web so that anyone could access it from the three universities?'”
Two juniors started VarsityText.com, a book-swap business, and three students began CollegeSnacks.com, a food delivery system, earlier this semester. CollegeSnacks.com operates out of a townhouse located next to 7-Eleven on New Hampshire Avenue, but DCMenus.com runs out of the creators’ residence hall rooms, with a mailing address at one of their homes in New Jersey.
The site also hosts a section for “midnight munchies” and an option to choose inexpensive, moderate or expensive restaurants.
Restaurants on the Web site pay for monthly contracts. It costs $25 per month for the basic package, which includes the restaurant’s menu and phone number.
Beaver said the company has made $3,000 so far, but the entrepreneurs haven’t used any of the money for personal reasons yet.
“Our estimated grosses are very good for a startup,” said Patnam, the Web site administrator. “But we were never in this for the money; in fact, none of us have made a dime.”
The students spend profits on paying their two sales representatives, rent for Web space, advertising materials, printer paper and other supplies.
Restaurant workers said the site has brought them advertising at a relatively cheap price.
The Big Hunt, a restaurant and bar that joined DCMenus.com three months ago, serves Mexican and American food. A Big Hunt manager, who declined to give his name, said he hasn’t seen an increase in business yet but thinks the investment was worth the $25 per month.
“It was easy and the price was right,” he said. “I’m considering a coupon to put with the menu.”
Some students said they like the site’s convenience and are happy with recently expanded options.
“I only found out about (the Web site) recently,” sophomore Phil Thomas said, “but it can be pretty useful when you don’t have a paper menu available.”
Although none of the business creators is in the School of Business and Public Management, each learned about running a business quickly. Patnam said he works about 15 hours a week and Beaver said they all work “pretty much every day.”
“A startup company requires a lot of work,” said Beaver, a visual communications major. “Especially a small business takes even more commitment.” He said his work mostly consists of updating the Web site.
Beaver said future plans include “expanding our clientele” – Catholic University is the business’ “next shot.” He said students may continue working with the business after they graduate, but plans aren’t set in stone.
The students said they look to other campus companies positively and hope the trend encourages other students to begin businesses.
“Take the initiative and cooperate,” Mayer said. “You have to be determined.”
-Julie Gordon contributed to this report.