A better Yelp? Tangoo’s different approach to dining

Tangoo’s Paul Davidescu, with colleague Suraya Tabesh, look up business-friendly restaurants

For entrepreneur Paul Davidescu, getting rejected on Dragons’ Den was the beginning, not the end

Do dragons give second chances? Depends on the TV show. If it’s Game of Thrones, unlikely. But as Paul Davidescu discovered, going down in flames is not necessarily fatal on Dragons’ Den. Last November, viewers of the CBC show watched as the local entrepreneur failed to score an investment deal for his restaurant search app, Tangoo. But off camera, restaurateur Vikram Vij (then one of the dragons) expressed interest and eventually decided to buy in as a minority shareholder. Now Davidescu and Vij are ready for Tangoo to catch fire with Canadian diners.

Tangoo began as a sort of dining tour service, organizing groups that would visit several local bars and eateries for a set price. But in the summer of 2013, Davidescu and his original partners came to the difficult realization that the approach was a dead end. Following input by Vij and others, Tangoo re-emerged as something else entirely—what Davidescu calls “a pocket concierge.”

The app allows users to identify the elements they are seeking—a romantic setting, live music, a patio with a view—and get a list of nearby options recommended by local tastemakers/food bloggers. “Common questions asked before deciding on a place are very personal and situational,” Davidescu says. “Is it good for a first date? Is it a fun atmosphere for my birthday? Do they have a great cocktail selection?” Users can add their own feedback, voting on whether they thought a place was great for any of the experience categories on Tangoo—and in return, users can earn a chance at gift cards and other bonuses.

While the popular Yelp app is Tangoo’s biggest competitor, Davidescu also identifies Zomato (which recently acquired Urbanspoon) and Foursquare as key rivals for market share. Tangoo’s revenue model involves signing restaurants to premium memberships that offer “special access to better target and engage with the right users on Tangoo”; a year in, Davidescu says that Tangoo has 10,000 end users and has signed 20 restaurants as premium subscribers, including the Donnelly Group, Brown’s Social House, Hamilton Street Grill, Bambudda and The Irish Heather. “Tangoo was created to fill a void for consumers who were frustrated with finding great experiences around them,” he says. “Since Yelp didn’t quite solve this problem for our audience, we decided to play in this arena.”

Vij, the man behind Vij’s, Rangoli and My Shanti, has famously clashed with Yelp in the past, as a July BCBusiness story details. Tangoo, though, strikes Vij as more positive. “People are deciding where to eat by using their phones and computers, sometimes just minutes before heading to that restraurant,” says the 50-year-old. “Tangoo offers the best restaurant app out there when it comes to making those decisions.”