Starting this April, the federal government will require all restaurants to include calorie information on their menus and to make additional nutritional information available on request. So far, few companies offer software that allows restaurants do this, and just one might have what could be viewed as a truly comprehensive solution.
Fort Collins-based MenuTrinfo analyzes a restaurant’s menu so restaurant owners can identify caloric content, allergens and other dietary components. In other words, MenuTrinfo can provide a diabetic with the exact number of carbohydrates in an entree or tell a celiac if the secret ingredient in a fish sauce includes gluten.
MenuTrinfo founder and President Betsy Craig likes to say MenuTrinfo “keeps the hospital out of hospitality” by preemptively letting consumers know the details of what’s passing their lips.
“The important part is that we go to sub-particle ingredients,” Craig said. “If you’re allergic to fish, you need to know not to use the Worchester cause that contains traces of fish. That could be ER-seeking for you.”
Craig had a number of years of business experience before starting MenuTrinfo – she had a small window-cleaning business – and extensive background in food service. Craig’s family ran a butcher shop. When she was old enough, she started working in a steakhouse and eventually managed restaurants on the East Coast.
She started MenuTrinfo three years ago after suffering from scleroderma, which is a chronic autoimmune disease that hardens connective tissues.
“I discovered that what I had to eat had an impact on my health,” Craig said.
A friend posted an article on Facebook about a federal mandate that, at that time, would have required restaurants to include the top 13 pieces of nutritional information on menus by 2013. Craig mentioned the article to her husband, who is a software developer and, in an hour, they started work to develop MenuTrinfo.
“He figured out the software and I figured out who was in the marketplace and that’s how we got started,” Craig said.
Craig cashed in a 401(k) she says was, thanks to the economy, more of a “201k,” set up an office in the basement of her empty nest, learned to build a website by attending local meetups and enrolled in a Rocky Mountain Innosphere-sponsored FasTrack entrepreneur class.
A few months after Craig had the idea for MenuTrinfo, she nabbed her first client – a Baltimore deli that delivers meals to John Hopkins University.
MenuTrinfo, which is 100 percent self-funded, is now cash-positive. Craig has been approached by three different funders and is finally considering accepting a round of funding to help with expansion.
“We now have hundreds of clients and have done thousands of menu items all over the country,” Craig said. “We have added more than 15,000 new items to our database based on what the restaurants are doing.”
Since launching in February 2010, MenuTrinfo has more than doubled in terms of clients and revenue every year.
“See how all things worked together for good?” Craig said. “It’s amazing that when you need things, they show up.”
Craig has five employees in Fort Collins and 13 individuals that represent the brand in other parts of the country who receive commissions for generating leads.
“We started that a year ago and that’s part of the reason we’re growing exponentially,” Craig said. “We’re working smarter, not harder.”
Fifteen months ago, Craig, launched a training program that complements MenuTrinfo. AllerTrain provides online and in-person allergy and gluten training for restaurant staff.
“In almost every class someone thinks allergens are cooked off because the oil is hot, but that’s not true,” Craig said. “That’s what can kill somebody.”
Craig said AllerTrain is the only accredited gluten-free and allergen training program that’s been on the market for more than a year.
“A lot of providers out there want their employees to have a base knowledge and we’re the best when it comes to that subject matter,” Craig said.
Craig expects to double her staff this year and is running out of space in her downtown Fort Collins office.
“I’ve lost my mind, but in a good way,” Craig said about her success.