Spokane Journal of Business

Cd'A software firm tests iPad menus at big chain

HubWorks Interactive to grow this year, founders say

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Cd'A software firm tests iPad menus at big chain
-—Staff photo by Chey Scott
HubWorks Interactive co-founders Sam Winter, left, and Aaron Gabriel say restaurants and bars that use the system have reported increases in average check size.

A young Coeur d'Alene-based technology startup is seeing early success with a suite of software it's developed that's aimed at business in the hospitality and restaurant industry.

The company's founders say its software platform is designed to help busy restaurants and bars improve efficiency and profitability.

HubWorks Interactive LLC, headquartered in a 4,000-square-foot office suite at 701 E. Front, released its DrinkHub, FoodHub, and MyHub applications in the middle of last year. Since then, HubWorks has contracted with a big, international restaurant chain to test those programs in the market and is in talks with several others, says company co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing Aaron Gabriel.

HubWorks' software is designed to let patrons at a restaurant or bar order and pay directly through an iPad application that's integrated with an establishment's point-of-sale-system, he says. The FoodHub and DrinkHub systems don't cut out the need for wait staff, Gabriel says, but allow servers to spend more time interacting with customers, versus having to continually, manually enter orders and run payments.

He asserts that the software also allows establishments using it to capitalize on each sale, because patrons are more in control of what and when they want to order, or add to their check after placing the initial order. Orders placed through the iPads at each table then go directly to the kitchen or bar staff, and also to a computer at the servers' stations, he says.

Last fall, HubWorks launched its first large-scale test pilot of its software with Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., a fast-casual chain with more than 800 international restaurants.

Gabriel says the chain currently is piloting HubWorks' software at two of its Minneapolis-area restaurants, and plans to deploy the system at a third restaurant located there later this month.

Rob Berger, HubWorks' co-founder and president, says that since installing FoodHub at the two Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants, both locations have seen daily increases in average check size of between 2 percent and 10 percent.

"That never really happens in the restaurant industry, so that is a huge opportunity for us and for them," Berger says. "It makes the return-on-investment a no-brainer, and so that is optimistic. People like using it," he adds.

For the test pilot at the two Minneapolis restaurants, he says customers can leave feedback about their experience using FoodHub, rating it from one to five, with five being the highest score. He says that the average rating so far is 4.6 out of 5, and about 88 percent of written customer comments about the software have been positive.

At press time, the company was gearing up to pilot a customized software design for a big, international restaurant chain that's known for its memorabilia decor.

Of that version of HubWorks' software platform, Sam Winter, Hubworks' co-founder and vice president of operations, says, "The simple idea is that we're creating an experience platform that operators can communicate with guests using event calendars, daily promotions, and other deals or rewards."

An example of that would be customizing the software to include historical information about the establishment, or more detailed menu descriptions that could be changed or updated as needed by the restaurant, he says.

"It's easy to update and refresh constantly," Winter says.

In addition to the company's ongoing test pilot with Buffalo Wild Wings and the new, yet-to-be announced chain, Gabriel says HubWorks has signed contracts with a handful of smaller restaurants across the U.S., including a sushi restaurant in Austin, Texas, and a gourmet specialty eatery in Aspen, Colo.

He adds that the company is looking to land contracts with other smaller restaurants similar to those, and is in early talks with chains such as T.G.I. Friday's, Applebee's, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, and several others, but hasn't inked any deals with those chains yet. The company doesn't yet have any Inland Northwest-based users of its software, he says.

The company has hired several new employees in the past few months. Gabriel says that since HubWorks was founded in July 2009, it's grown from its three co-founders to nearly 20 employees, who are mostly software developers.

Meanwhile, he says the company has reached profitability this year, and also recently welcomed a new venture-capital investor who previously was CEO of the Australia-inspired Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain, owned by Bloomin' Brands Inc., based in Tampa, Fla.

Winter says he anticipates that through the end of this year the company's Coeur d'Alene operations will double in size.

Gabriel says that the idea behind Hubworks was born in 2008, when he and the company's other co-founders began doing their own market research to see if their idea for a kiosk-type food ordering system would be feasible.

"Initially, the concept was to allow (restaurant) owners to capitalize on the extra sales they could miss at the bar—at peak hours, it could take 20 minutes for someone to order a drink—but if customers had the option to order on demand, they might order an extra item," Gabriel says.

Gabriel and Winter say basic brand integration and installation of its software starts at $3,000 and goes up from there for a customized design. He says it could cost up to $150,000 to program HubWorks' system to be compatible with older systems.

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