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Why Eat Alone When You Can Grubwithus?

By John DiGilio in Food on Nov 30, 2010 4:20PM

Grubwithus.jpg Social networking has already transformed the way we communicate, work, and play. Now it is promising to change the way we eat. Chicago start-up Grubwithus is on the forefront of this new "social dining" experience. In just its first few months of existence, it has garnered favorable press attention, acquired loyal core of followers, and provided some fantastic meals. Think of it as all the best parts of Groupon, Open Table, and Facebook rolled into one fun and tasty package.

For people who are new to a city or on their own, making friends and finding good, affordable food can be daunting tasks. Tackling those challenges is what motivated Daishin Sugano and Eddie Lu to create Grubwithus. Both had relocated from California to Chicago as part of the expansion of the Beard Papa's gourmet cream puff chain. The prospect of living in a new city was exciting. However, neither Sugano nor Lu had family or friends in Chicago. Entrepreneurs, they set out to change that for themselves and for others by creating a site that would bring people together in a way that was both hassle-free and tackled a common necessity - the need to eat.

"We wanted to find a way to make friends that was an alternative to bars," said Sugano, 30. "Having meetings in restaurants made sense and makes you feel like you are part of the city."

The concept he and Lu developed is simple, yet sublime in a business sense. Sugano says that they wanted to create a system that benefitted everyone. "Hassle free" is a phrase to which he returns often and seems to be the Grubwithus mantra. Becoming a member is free and easy. Users just sign up. From there, it is a matter of watching for upcoming meals to be posted and then signing up for the ones that interest them. Everything is paid up front - the cost of the meal, tax, and even tip. The Grubwithus team handles the rest. They make the reservation, set the menu, introduce the diners to each other, and pay the restaurant. Grubbers simply have to show up, socialize, and eat.

"We want the businesses, especially small businesses, to make money,"; said Sugano. "Yet we want to make it affordable for everyone."

Though still in its beta stage, Grubwithus is growing rapidly. Sugano estimates that over 2000 members have already signed on. The number of participating restaurants is rapidly approaching 30 and includes such stand-outs as Sapori Trattoria, Shiso Sushi, Veerasway Indian, and Ethiopian Diamond. The choices are constantly expanding and restaurants are really getting in on the fun. At a recent event at Sapori in Lincoln Park, Chef Anthony Barbanente repeatedly joined his guests on the floor to talk about his menu choices and to get their feedback. It was a rare treat for the participants, some of whom came all the way from Wisconsin.

Daishin Sugano and Eddy Lu have ambitious plans for their start-up. From expanding into new neighborhoods and exploring other meals beyond dinner, they are looking to transform the way Chicago dines. Good food, interesting people, and affordable prices could be their recipe for success. New Chicagoans and Windy City natives alike, no one needs to dine alone any longer - not when they can Grubwithus.