App Helps Seafood Lovers Find Fresh Fish

Photo: Eugene Mymrin, Getty Images.

When you’re famished, phone in hand, looking for your next best meal, the last thing you want to do is open a PDF menu on a restaurant’s website and zoom in and out to decipher what’s being served. Pearl, an app originally made for oyster eaters, recently expanded to include all seafood, allowing users to scope out which nearby restaurants are serving fish dishes.

“Two-thirds of the money that’s spent at restaurants is spent on seafood. A lot of that is A) because it’s healthy but B) because you don’t have to go to fine dining now to get good seafood,”  says the app’s founder, Sam Asher. “It’s really accessible.”

But do you know what you’re getting when you order, say, clams casino? Pearl demystifies the process, providing information and education on the taste, texture, nutrition facts, and sustainability of your seafood.

Pearl AppThe idea for an app that would both educate users on, and help them locate, quality seafood in their area hatched a year-and-a-half ago when Asher arrived at a restaurant only to find that what was being served differed from what the menu promised online. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had dish-level information about food in restaurants coming from the restaurants themselves?” he wondered. That led to brainstorming on how to help restaurants get information about menus and specials out to customers in real time.

Asher initially focused on oysters because of the knowledge gap surrounding the popular bivalve. The first incarnation of Pearl aggregated information from oyster farms and designed a system to educate users so they knew what they were getting when they went into a restaurant.

Pearl launched in beta last summer and, after tens of thousands of downloads, Asher expanded the app to include all forms of seafood. In only two weeks, it climbed to the top 1 percent of food and beverage apps on Apple.

“We’ve created a curated glossary of seafood,” the founder says. “We’re not promoting one seafood over another. We’re helping people to buy seafood and provide diners better access to information via our app.”

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Asher approaches restaurants to join the Pearl community and welcomes feedback from industry users. “We really have a unique relationship with restaurants. We’re very cohesive,” he says. “We’re not building one technology and just shopping it around. We’re saying, ‘We want to build this with your direct input.’”

A feed in the app has an Instagram API. Restaurants can monitor activity and post a special, with or without a picture. Diners can favorite dishes so they can find them again. Asher compares it to a hyper-local Instagram where you can search by seafood name or by hashtag.

Pearl’s biggest markets are currently New York, Boston, and San Francisco, though other metropolises like Chicago and Seattle are on-board as well. Up next? Wholesale seafood markets in Santa Monica, a Shanghai launch in October, and test-piloting with the Wright Brothers restaurant group in London. Working with grocery stores is also a future possibility. 

Eventually, Asher would like to see Pearl manage menus for all kinds of restaurants. “Take a picture of your menu with our app,” Asher imagines telling chefs, “and we’ll make sure the information is distributed in a way that people want to see it. That’s where we’re headed.”