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Menupolitan plugs diners into menu

Portland venture puts cravings in hands of people


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Brett Meyers (above), Jim Bisenius and Ian Taylor are the brains behind a new website, Menupolitan.com, that plans to provide a democratically based voting system that ranks restaurants for a particular item -- burger, pizza, pasta, dessert, drinks, etc.It’s a scenario every person can relate to: the craving for food.

Sometimes, however, that craving isn’t simply a generalized “I’ll eat anything” desire as much as a want and a need for a very particular item or meal.

A new Portland website called www.Menupolitan.com is ready to answer those cravings with a democratically based voting system that ranks the best restaurants for a particular item.

“It’s a city-wide menu for the best meals,” says operations manger Brett Meyers. “We wanted to give people the option of knowing where, regardless of price or location, the best of a particular item is.

“It’s a new kind of dining guide, because instead of focusing on restaurants, Menupolitan allows diners to make decisions based on exactly what they want to eat.”

Alongside Meyers on the Menupolitan ownership team are Jim Bisenius, the team’s lead visionary, and Ian Taylor, the website’s engineer.

Bisenius, a Portland native, has an entrepreneurial background that includes a number of fairly successful ventures, some that began during his college years at Westmont in Southern California, which is where he first met Meyers.

“Jim was super entrepreneurial,” Meyers says. “He started multiple companies from his dorm during our junior and senior year.”

Among those ventures was a company called OptOR, an inventory control system for ambulatory surgery centers to use.

“One of our business professors owned a surgery center and was frustrated that they weren’t being efficient with their inventory costs,” Meyers says. “He said there should be a computer system to track inventory, and Jim said, ‘I’ll build you one.’ ”

After getting things moving, Meyers eventually joined the team and helped run the company until it was sold in 2005 to MedBridge Development.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Menupolitan.com is still in the testing phase, ready to be fully launched, and Brett Meyers says it'll be about 'satisfying cravings' and comparing items such as pad thai from a food cart and a restaurant.From there, Bisenius started a social media venture called ZLoop, for which he raised $1.4 million in funding. Like at OptOR, Meyers was one of the first people he called once there was enough funding.

“It was a Facebook-style social networking site that was created to replicate real world communities, so it was very similar to Google Circles,” Meyers says. “Our staff grew to 14 people, but the problem was that it came out too early, just when Facebook was blowing up.”

So in early 2009, ZLoop closed its doors and the team of entrepreneurs was looking for their next venture. Little did they know it would come in the form of a lunchtime craving.

A single menu

Bisenius, who had since started a career in private equity, stumbled upon the idea during the summer of 2011 while searching for the best sandwich in Portland. The problem was, there wasn’t a site to answer his question.

Sure, there were sites like Yelp! and UrbanSpoon, but both rated restaurants based on things like atmosphere, price and service — things Bisenius wasn’t concerned about.

So, just as he had told his business professor in college, Bisenius decided to build one.

With Meyers on board from day one, the next big step for the pair was to contact their old ZLoop chief technical officer — Ian Taylor — and see if he would be interested in joining their team and building the site.

“We asked (Ian) what he thought, and he said he needed time to think about it,” Meyers says. “Eventually, he came back to us and said he thought it was a good idea, so we started programming in September of 2011.”

Four months later, the site was just about finished and the beta launched shortly thereafter in March.

The site offers six major categories — breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour, dessert and drinks — each of which has a number of sub-categories as well.

Take breakfast for example. The site boasts subcategories that present the highest rated (those receiving the most votes) pancakes, French toast, combos, waffles, scrambles, omelets, oatmeal/granola, hashes and vegetarian items.

“It’s really a great place for food exploration and discovery,” Meyers says. “It’s all about satisfying cravings, and it’s cool to be able to have something like pad thai from a food cart ranked up against pad thai from a really expensive restaurant.”

To vote, users can view the lists under each category, and if they agree with a particular selection, they can vote that item up higher on the list. For items that aren’t on the list yet, users are encouraged to add them to the site.

“It doesn’t do you any good to find a great restaurant if that place doesn’t offer the specific item you might be looking for,” Meyers says. “We’re simply trying to offer people the city’s best meals on a single menu.”