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Video gamers help small businesses build websites for free during pandemic

Posted at 11:41 AM, Nov 13, 2020

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – At the beginning of this year, the Tier 1 gaming loungewas taking off.

“Business was pretty good,” said Jordan Tian, who was part of the team launching the gaming lounge in Milwaukee. “We had like a decent amount of people signing up, but then we had to close completely.”

The video gamer’s dream hangout was forced to close because of the pandemic.

“We got government grants, like a decent amount for a very small business, but we didn't want to just sit there and pay expenses and wait until we could reopen,” said Tian of his talented team.

So, Tian used his free time to fix up the website for his family’s Chinese restaurant by making a new online system, so customers could directly visit their website to place orders and see the menu.

It cut out third party ordering platforms and helped keep his mom’s restaurant alive.

“She saved like thousands of dollars every month on online ordering fees and she's like, ‘This is really good. You could probably do this for other businesses.’”

That is exactly what Tian did next.

Tian and his team built a platform called SmallNeighborhood. It’s a site where you can order directly from local businesses. Then, Jordan decided to design the websites and ordering platforms for those small businesses for free.

It's a service restaurant owner Adnan Bin-Mahfouz desperately needed.

“Having less people dine in took away close to 75% of our business,” said Bin-Mahfouz.

Bin-Mahfouz’s restaurant, O Yeah Chicken and More, was barely scraping by because of COVID-19. He was hoping online orders would flood in with families quarantining at home, but then realized his website was tough to use.

“Most of us are operators, we’re chefs who’re really not high tech,” said Bin-Mahfouz.

So, Tian revamped the website and Adnan saw sales starting to grow.

“This app I see is a long-term solution. It's a partnership. You do feel with them, you are part of a group or part of family,” said Bin-Mahfouz.

For every order Adnan gets, Jordan collects a fee up to 99¢ per order, a smaller fee than any other delivery app.

“Right now, online ordering platforms, they take so much money that it's hard,” said Tian. “They can lose money on each order, even after the overhead costs and coupons and everything.”

It’s making sure both these small businesses can stay open in a year where family owned stores are dwindling.

“The small businesses, we are the main spine of the economy,” said Bin-Mahfouz. “These small, poppa mom shops, whether it's a gas station, a restaurant, a laundromat, whatever it is, you know, we are the people.”

“In building up small businesses, that's what makes our cities different,” said Tian. “Because if there's only chains and national chains, then everything in town loses its flavor.”

Saving the flavor each small restaurant adds to its neighborhood is a mission that means everything to Bin-Mahfouz.

“As an immigrant, who moved here 30 years ago to a different country who didn't even speak the language. Now, to have somebody like Jordan, who his parents were immigrants too, so he can feel what are we going through and trying to connect all of us together to serve and give the best service to the end user, definitely is something great,” said Bin-Mahfouz.

That togetherness is a beacon of hope when many are feeling alone.

“Let’s help each other. Let's build something together, one community at a time, one neighborhood at a time. I need my customers back. I need my family back."

And now, Bin-Mahfouz feels more confident his business will survive to see that happen once again.