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from the L.A. Times

Munch On Me, a deals site for restaurants, expands to West L.A.

MunchonMeWestLA

Munch On Me, a San Francisco-based start-up, is hoping to be the first thing you think of when that ever-recurring question arises: "What do I want to eat?"

The company's website, MunchOnMe.com of course, is a foodie's take on the hot streak of deal-offering sites that have popped up in recent years (sort of like Groupon, LivingSocial and Woot!). But, unlike other deals sites, Munch On Me isn't waiting for others to take part in a bargain before one can nab a discount out in the real world.

Munch On Me offers specific food items -- just individual items, not entire meals -- for a week, at  discounts that vary by restaurant. Usually, each week, three or four items are up for grabs and as soon as users buy an item, they can redeem their discount.

The start-up, coming out of the Mountain View, Calif., tech incubator Y Combinator, launched this week in West Los Angeles and is offering three discounted items -- a "specialty donut" at Stan's Doughnuts, a $5 wine tasting card at the Pourtal Wine tasting bar and a Stand Dog (hot dog) at The Stand.

And to kick things off for Munch On Me, the first three discounts are sizable: 100% off. Free. Gratis.

Free is exactly the kind of deal co-founder and CEO Jason Wang would have loved to have been offered a bit more while in college at UC Berkeley, where met the company's other three co-founders: Richard Din, Andy Zhang and Tony Li.

"In college, I ate out just about every meal and I had to think about what am I going to eat for every meal, every day," Wang said. "When I got out of college, I got a job at Google and they feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner and it made me realize I didn't have to think about that anymore. And that made me realize how helpful something like Munch On Me could have been to me in college and for everyone else who doesn't work at a company that feeds you."

After about nine months at Google as a risk analyst, Wang and his friend Din, who was working as a  software engineer at Electronic Arts, broke out on their own and hired Zhang to lead Web development and Li to handle sales.

The site launched appropriately in Berkely and the East Bay area as its first market in February and is currently offering weekly deals there and in San Francisco, as well as in San Jose and the South Bay.

"So far, the response has been really good," Wang said. "We've had a lot of restaurants wanting to return and do more deals with us and often, when people get a deal from us, they'll buy something else at the merchant, too, because our deals aren't full meals. We usually do an appetizer, a drink, a meal, a dessert, all at different places."

After some success in the site's first three markets, rolling out to West Los Angeles was a no brainer, he said.

"West L.A. is dense, and the food is really good, and our users have been asking for us to add West L.A. for a while now," Wang said.

The company is hoping to launch into Seattle sometime in August and sometime after that in Orange County, Chicago, New York and San Diego. The planned expansion will call for more new hires; part-timers who can meet with restaurant owners, shoot photos of food and write up copy on all the edibles that are featured, he said.

The team is also working on building out a mobile website, as well as apps for Apple's iOS and Google's Android, Wang said.

"Our market is really the whole world, because everybody eats," he said. "We're just getting started, but we want to be the go-to service when you ask yourself everyday 'what am I going to eat today.' People turn to Facebook for social networking, LinkedIn for professional networking, Amazon to buy things, Craigslist to sell things -- we want to be that for food."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screen shot of Munch On Me's first meal deals in West Los Angeles. Credit: Munch On Me

 
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