Dining partnership with D.C.-based food app offers discounted meals, donates meals funds

Media Credit: Sophia Young | Photographer

Alex Cohen, the founder and CEO of the D.C.-based app TwentyTables, said he teamed up with the University to offer more dining options through participating food trucks.

Students can now use GWorld to purchase meal tickets that can be used at food trucks and restaurants around the District.

Officials partnered with the founder of TwentyTables, a company that teams up with D.C.-based food trucks and restaurants to donate meals to charity for each item purchased through the program. The program will preview Monday, during which four food trucks participating in TwentyTables will be stationed in Potomac Park for lunch and dinner, and will officially launch Wednesday, officials said.

Alex Cohen, the founder and CEO of TwentyTables, said the company sells meal tickets for $6.60 through the app in bundles of five – from which customers can buy lunch with one ticket and dinner with two tickets at participating vendors. Cohen said he proposed the partnership to officials about four months ago after reading about students’ concerns about dining affordability.

Students have struggled with food insecurity since 2016 when J Street, the only dining hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus, closed in 2016. A report released last year showed that 40 percent of students face food insecurity on campus.

“D.C. is wonderfully a very diverse and ethnically diverse, culturally diverse town, and our network represents that so we have Korean, Indonesian, Ethiopian, German brat, fried chicken,” he said.

Cohen said TwentyTables donates one meal to D.C.-based charities, like Martha’s Table and D.C. Area Food Bank, for every meal customers purchase at participating restaurants or food trucks. He said TwentyTables donated more than 10,000 meals to charities in the District last year.

On the TwentyTables application, a map shows the location of food trucks and restaurants that participate in the program. When students purchase meals through the app, they are prompted to enter either their GWorld credentials or credit card information.

“By pulling up the app, you’ll be able to see where the daily movement of food trucks has landed,” Cohen said.

The first 100 students who purchase meals from the food trucks Monday will receive a free TwentyTables t-shirt, Cohen said in an email to students Sunday. Sate Indonesian, Peruvian Brothers, Korean Yellow Truck and Tazah Lebanese will be featured at the Monday kick-off, the email states.

He said students can enter an online contest to win a “golden ticket,” which provides the winner with free lunch for a semester.

Cohen said giving students the option to eat at food trucks on campus they previously didn’t have access to and at establishments throughout the District combats “menu fatigue,” which occurs when someone has repeatedly eaten at the same establishment that lacks variety in food options.

“A lot of, let’s say food-oriented companies, they’re taking in large margins for themselves,” he said. “What we do is we ask our vendors, instead of taking that margin for the company, turn it around and provide value for the customers.”

Naveen Sidhu, the dining services manager, said officials’ decision to team up with Cohen was a “no-brainer” because the partnership will offer students several ethnically diverse food options.

“D.C. is such an amazing food town with so many ethnic pockets of cuisines that for various reasons are underrepresented on our campus,” Sidhu said. “But it’s a struggle to go to those pockets to try to establish relationships with them because they’re not going to get the business to make it sustainable.”

Robert “Chef Roro” Asmar, the owner of Roro’s Lebanese food truck, said Cohen asked him to join TwentyTable’s marketplace in 2017.

“I could tell he was real genuine about what he wanted to do with his business as he was starting it and developing it, and just looking for people to join them, and people to help him get there,” Asmar said.

Asmar said he regularly donated food from his truck to individuals experiencing homelessness before he participated in TwentyTables. He said TwentyTables gives him an opportunity to quantify how much he is giving and reach a larger population of people in need.

“It helps the food industry legitimize themselves in a charitable fashion, while also creating more awareness on the consumer base,” Asmar said.

He said finding a spot to park his truck on campus is difficult because parking spaces quickly fill up. But GW’s partnership with TwentyTables will ensure that Asmar can sell meals to students, because his truck will be regularly stationed on campus, he said.

“For TwentyTables to provide food trucks and food businesses opportunities to provide quality meals and showcase their talents to such a big population and such an important population in D.C. is a game-changer,” he said.

Sujit Shakya – the owner of Himalyan Soul Foods, a D.C.-based Nepalese food truck that participates in TwentyTables – said the company’s partnership with GW will provide students with a larger breadth of meals to choose from.

“There are very good food trucks operating in D.C. and it’s diverse,” Shakya said. “They get to try a whole different cuisine from all over the world.”

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