Recognizing a lack of late night food options for students, seniors Sawyer Billings and Joe Gentile developed PolarEats, an app that creates a digital marketplace for local restaurants to make late-night deliveries accessible to anyone in the Brunswick-Topsham area.
The app is modeled after UberEATS, an app created by Uber which allows users to place online orders from local restaurants and have them delivered. As of now, Benchwarmers and Portland Pie Co. are the only restaurants participating, with more to hopefully be added soon.
Billings and Gentile came up with the idea this summer, when they were working in different cities that both offered plenty of online delivery options such as UberEATS and Grubhub. Gentile realized that small college towns lack the technological infrastructure for an online delivery service and recruited Billings to help with the programming.
“Brunswick lacked the connection between Bowdoin students and local Brunswick restaurants,” said Gentile. “I felt like there was a huge disconnect there.”
“Domino’s dominates the late-night industry,” said Billings. “We knew that if we could get a second option to Domino’s during late-night hours then we could definitely compete. So the idea was [a] burger place, burrito place, pizza place and some Asian cuisine whether it be Little Tokyo, Asian Garden or China Rose.”
“A big part of this was taking down Domino’s,” added Billings.
PolarEats went into development around the end of August. Billings, who had previous experience developing apps, worked on the technical end.
“This is probably my fifth or sixth app on the App Store,” said Billings.
He has been coding since he was 13, and PolarEats is the second business he has started through the App marketplace.
Meanwhile, Gentile devised pitches for the restaurants.
“Now I know how to make an effort to figure out how businesses work,” said Gentile. “It’s been a really huge learning experience in its own right.”
Despite their endeavors, Billings and Gentile were dependent upon responses from restaurant owners, not all of whom were enthusiastic right away.
“We were turned away by a couple restaurants who simply didn’t understand what we meant,” said Billings. “It wasn’t a matter of no, we don’t want to do that. It was literally like I don’t know what that is or what that technology is and I don’t know how it could work for me, so thanks but no thanks.”
Mike Jerome, the co-owner of Portland Pie Co., saw potential in the students’ project.
“I was pretty excited,” said Jerome. “I think more so for them to be developing an app in their dorm room in college at Bowdoin. I thought that was really cool.”
But he also saw business potential in expanding late-night service options.
“We have never stayed open until two in the morning. No Portland Pie has in the 20 years of its existence,” said Jerome. “My business partner Joe O’Neil and I had tossed around the idea of staying open later. It was not until PolarEats that we really, really decided to make the change.”
The menu offered during the new late-night hours is simplified because the restaurant during this time will not be fully staffed. The restricted options are a cause for concern for Jerome.
“I don’t want Bowdoin students to think all Portland Pie Co. has is pepperoni pizza and breadsticks,” he said.
Jerome hopes the late-night hours will serve as an incentive for Bowdoin students to come back during the restaurant’s regular hours and to try the full menu.
To Gentile, Portland Pie Co.’s connection with PolarEats elevates the late-night experience of students and Brunswick residents alike.
“When this app comes out, don’t go with Domino’s,” said Gentile. “Don’t settle for bad pizza.”