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Online service offers restaurant reviews

Becky Hogan | Monday, April 2, 2007

It may sound too good to be true, but an up-and-coming online service called NDtogo.com is promising students free food and a guide to great restaurants in South Bend.

NDtogo is “armed with a sixth sense for good deals and a passion for hole-in-the-wall restaurants and little-known bars … to help students drink and dine better and more cheaply,” according to its Web site.

Its three founders – including Notre Dame alumni Rudy Reyes Jr. and DJ DiDonna – decided to introduce South Bend restaurants, bars and eateries to students through its new Web site, NDtogo.com, expected to be fully usable later this month. Ian Runyon, a graduate of DePauw University, is also a cofounder of the company.

“The concept is basically that local South Bend restaurants really want to have students come into their restaurants, Reyes said. “We are basically trying to bring restaurants into campus through the Internet.”

The idea was entered in the McCloskey Business Plan Competition last October through Mendoza’s Gigot Center of Entrepreneurial Studies, Reyes said. While he and his business partners only made it through the first round, the competition was ultimately successful, since they were able to find a group of investors through the competition that are now sponsoring NDtogo.

The services offered through the Web site will only be available to Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students since students will need a school e-mail address to register.

“The service will always be free to students … whether they are logging in, using the Web site or getting freebies,” Reyes said.

Reyes said the Web site will be organized according to various categories, such as dining on a budget, type of restaurant and appropriate dress.

NDtogo.com will feature lists of restaurants in the South Bend area where students can take their parents over Junior Parents Weekend as well as restaurants for students on a budget to go out with their friends, Reyes said.

“Every week a restaurant will be featured which will give away free items,” Reyes said.

Reyes said many restaurants and businesses have been receptive to the company’s business plan because they want more student business.

“Business owners are bring extremely generous and are giving away whole pizzas, for example,” Reyes said.

Although the database part of the Web site will not be up and running until late April, students can start registering now on the site. Students will be eligible for free prizes and coupons once they register, Reyes said.

“Every week a restaurant will be featured which will give away free items,” Reyes said.

The listings and database will be available Blue and Gold weekend, Reyes said, and the last two weeks of school the site will be giving away free items daily.

NDtogo has begun advertising to students through Facebook.com flyers. The company also had a Facebook event to draw student interest, but the event could not be located Sunday.

Reyes declined to discuss how the business will be lucrative, but said that helping college students in the South Bend area is his main objective.

“What will be profitable about it is that we will be helping students find cool and interesting restaurants in the South Bend community,” he said.

Reyes – who received a graduate degree from the University in 2003 – said he realized during his time at Notre Dame that a lot of students are not aware of all the restaurants in South Bend and Mishawaka.

“Every time we wanted to go out, we’d go to the same place over and over. At the end of our time … we started finding all these places around the community,” Reyes said. “There are a lot of places to go that are new and fun in South Bend that aren’t going to break the bank.”

The Web site’s services will be focused on South Bend, Mishawaka, Granger and Niles, but the founders hope to eventually expand the site to include other areas such as Elkhart, Reyes said.

Reyes said he doesn’t think other Web sites like Yelp.com, campusfood.com and Dine In Delivery Service will be competition for his business because these services are not primarily for students.

“We don’t really feel like they are too much a competition. … Yelp is just getting started and it’s still not giving anything away [for free],” Reyes said. “We find with all these other Web sites that none of them are really geared toward students.”

Joshua Railton, director of operations at Dine In Delivery Service, which delivers food from multiple local vendors, said the new company will not be serious competition for Dine In in the future.

“There have been services like that in the past. Campusfood.com tried to work with us but it didn’t work because we work with over 50 different restaurants in the area and we provide good service and we do a lot of online orders for students,” Railton said.

NDtogo hopes to get students involved in its business venture as well.

“The eventual goal is to involve a team of student voices to help us get the word out – anybody can be involved,” Reyes said.

Reyes said they have sent e-mails out to various clubs on campus, including the entrepreneurial club and the marketing club.

“We are still waiting to get the full team in place,” he said.

Reyes said NDtogo.com will also be sponsoring a Bookstore Basketball team for the 2007 Bookstore Basketball season.

NDtogo is not affiliated with the University.