Betting on bots

Houston farmers market food truck introduces AI technology, plans to expand

The Grit Grocery truck at Market Square. Photo by Philip Emerson

Grit Grocery, a farmers market food truck with a mission to make fresh foods accessible, is taking that accessibility one step further.

Facebook users can now interact with Grit with just a few taps on Facebook Messenger. The tool launched this month.

"Most people would develop a mobile app, but this is our alternative to an app," one of Grit's founders, Dustin Windham, says. "There's a lot of research around app fatigue — people don't want to download yet another app — but over a billion people already have access to Facebook Messenger."

Users can use the chat bot to see where the truck is, the hours, and order meal kits.

"You interact via text message, which is really the future we feel of business-customer communication," Windham says.

In addition to this new tool, Grit plans on bringing a second truck to Houston by January. The second truck will help the grocer enter new neighborhoods around Houston. With the expansion, he hopes to hit the Heights and Acres Homes — a lower income community that's been identified as needing affordable and accessible groceries.

"We partner with the city with the Complete Communities initiative. They've identified five pilot neighborhoods — low income, food desert areas," Windham says. "Our goal is to get a truck in each of those neighborhoods."

Grit is already in three Houston neighborhoods — Downtown, EaDo, and the Museum District — once or twice a week. The second truck is just the first of many plans for growth, Windham says.

"The goal is to flesh it out and expand," Windham says. "[We want to have] at least 10 different trucks in 20 to 30 neighborhoods to prove that it works and take this to other Texas cities, then across the southern U.S. — fast growing cities that have challenges like Houston."

Grit's bread and butter is making easy, accessible, and locally sourced meals at an affordable price. The meal kits have been a big success for the truck — fresh ingredients ready to cook or assemble for just around $15 or less for two servings. While several meal delivery companies like Blue Apron are doing something similar, Grit provides local, fresh foods without a pricey subscription plan that comes with a lot of packaging. With Grit, you can pick up dinner for tonight, as well as any other snacks or groceries you'll need.

The original idea for Grit came when Windham was in the Peace Corps and living in Azerbaijan. He shopped more frequently and bought smaller volumes and cooked everything from scratch.

"It was eye opening to see this different way of eating," Windham says. "I got back to the United States after living abroad for two years with the knowledge of how to eat healthier, but it was difficult to do. These big box stores are designed for buying large volumes of food every week or every two weeks."

Grit operates on a much smaller scale.

"Another thing is the typical grocery store has 30,000 products. We have about 300," Michael Powell, one of the other founders, told CultureMap. "You can step up and see everything we have to offer. Simplifying the process, I think that's where we have something to offer."

Grit Grocery first opened in April and was founded by Windham, Jamal Ansari, and Emily Jaschke, head of communications. Windham and Ansari, both Rice University MBAs, had been working on the idea for Grit a few years prior to launch. Powell, who has a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology and has done extensive research into the way people shop for groceries, joined the team last year.

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Building Houston

 
 

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Getty Images

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more.

On Saturday Dec. 3 from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

The streamathon will be held on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and feature ESG Ambassador Gamers from the Houston area and nationally gaming, interacting with special celebrity guests, and opportunities for audience participation and shoutouts – all while supporting a good cause. The event will take place on popular streaming platform Twitch.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.”

Easter Seals is the seventh-largest nonprofit and largest disability service organization in the United States, and helps 1.5 million people per year. ES Gaming was established to create a new standard for equity and inclusion among gamers, and hopes to add to its community building with more tournaments and charity streams. According to the organization, a gaming scholarship program is expected to launch sometime in 2023.

According to ES Gaming, 64 percent of people with disabilities play video games, and 60 percent of disabled gamers play casual games for more than 5 hours per week. Technology has been at the forefront of trying to bridge the developmental gaps with those with disabilities of all kinds.

“The advancements we’ve made over the last 25 years (in technology) ending with the iPad, and everything in between has really made it a level playing field not just for gaming, but for employment and everything,” Klein tells InnovationMap.

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