March 5, 2012

Mom's Frustration Grows into Business

Adam Crisp  /  MountPleasantPatch

Mount Pleasant woman is telling the nation how to eat healthy while on a budget.

Mount Pleasant mom Jennifer Bilbro's burgeoning web enterprise was born out of a common frustration shared among moms.

"I took my son out to eat and it cost $7.50 for chicken fingers, fries and a small Sprite," Bilbro said. "He took a couple swigs of the Sprite and a couple bites of the chicken fingers, and he was done. That's highway robbery for a 3 year old."

So after that, the new mom decided to compile lists of restaurants that offered special prices for kids. Soon, the list grew to a whole file, and her friends began to rely on her for advice.

"People would call me all the time," Bilbro said. "Then, everyone got on Facebook, and the wall was just a natural place to share this information."

The wall, plus a new website,, provided comprehensive, constantly updated lists of where kids either eat free or with a deep discount in the Charleston area.

"Within a year, I was in South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina," Bilbro said. "That was all because people kept asking for me to expand to their area."

But soon, Bilbro realized the site could be more than just a guide to the cheapest food. Why not emphasize healthy options? She had heard about Kids Live Well, a National Restaurant Association program that encouraged restaurants to tweet their menus for healthier, kid-friendly food choices.

"All these lights went off ... I just knew there had to be a way to merge what I was doing and what they were doing," Bilbro said. "But they couldn't support me unless I was national."

So Bilbro, who had been running her business out of her home, decided it was time to expand. She moved to the Digital Corridor's Flagship, Charleston's techy business incubator.

With a small contract staff, her site grew from a listing of 1,800 restaurants in July 2010 to 12,000 restaurants in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

"I decided I needed to go big or go home," she said. "The relationship with the National Restaurant Association was just a natural fit."

Her web enterprise survives on advertising sales. Restaurants that pay for listings get moved to the top of the search results. OutToEatWithKids has apps for the iPhone and Android that list all the specials at any given time within a geographic area.

Now with the healthy component, Bilbro says the business is more than just listings. She feels like she's helping families – maybe even struggling folks – make smarter choices.

"People before probably knew they could get a cheap meal at certain restaurants," she said. "But now we're telling them how to make healthier choices while saving money."

Today, Bilbro's blog debuts on South Carolina Patch sites.