How Blue Cheese is changing the way you read international menus

IOWA CITY—When international student RuiHao Min was a freshman at the University of Iowa, he found himself on a first date at a local Italian restaurant with a Taiwanese girl he was pursuing. Upon opening their menus, Min realized they were both a little confused by the menu. Admittedly trying to use the opportunity to

Blue Cheese app

Blue Cheese app

Blue Cheese App logoIOWA CITY—When international student RuiHao Min was a freshman at the University of Iowa, he found himself on a first date at a local Italian restaurant with a Taiwanese girl he was pursuing.

Upon opening their menus, Min realized they were both a little confused by the menu. Admittedly trying to use the opportunity to impress his date with his cultural knowledge, Min suggested the only thing on the menu of jumbled foreign words that he recognized: a romaine salad with blue cheese dressing.

But soon after the food arrived, Min realized something was amiss.

“Her unpleasant face while chewing the food made me realize I made a huge mistake. It was her frustration that made me realize this is something that can cause a lot of embarrassment.”

And the idea for Blue Cheese was born.

“We have realized that the difficulty of understanding menus in a foreign language is a universal problem,” Min told SPN.

So Min, a recent University of Iowa grad from China who studied marketing and economics, teamed up with University of Iowa masters student Ming Jiang after the two met during a music class. Jiang soon became Min’s technical co-founder in Blue Cheese and the pair began building out the service.

“We’re different from other translators that normally only do word-for-word translations,” Min said. “On many occasions like with blue cheese, everybody knows ‘blue’ and ‘cheese’ because they’re very simple words, but don’t know what it is or what it will taste like until you try it.”

Rather than offering a basic translation, Blue Cheese aims to add context to menu items for international travelers and non-native speakers of a language.

Users simply take a photo of the menu item in question using the app’s resizable scanning box and wait while your order is translated into Chinese. The app provides photos of the item, a description of its flavors and potential ingredients, and comments from other users about a particular dish.

The free iOS app launched earlier this summer and since has garnered attention from users around the world. Already the app has had more than 80,000 users and was featured as a Best New App and the Best of July on the Apple App Store’s Chinese site. Blue Cheese also was featured alongside hit apps like Airbnb on the Chinese App Store’s travel section.

Blue Cheese plans to expand to other languages soon so that travelers who speak other languages, like Japanese, French and English, can use the app to help them order.RuiHao Min headshot

Min (right) says that he hopes Blue Cheese will help when it comes to not only language barriers but also cultural ones. In fact, this isn’t the first time his passion for helping bridge cultural differences has led Min to start a new endeavor. During his junior year, Min founded AiCheng, a student-run magazine to help international students learn about the authentic American culture.

This summer, the Blue Cheese team joined the University’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s Venture School program to continue their market research and build out the app. What they’ve found has confirmed Min’s suspicions—not to mention the thousands of users they’ve acquired without much effort—that there is a large market for international translators when it comes to eating out.

“During our study during Venture School, we discovered it’s not only international travelers who have the problem of not knowing what to order,” Min said. “It’s a huge market because rarely you can find any restaurant owners who know how to attract those international customers.

“We can serve as a portal that connects international travelers and local restaurants by providing recommendations.”

Through partnerships with local restaurants, Min says Blue Cheese will not only be able to monetize its services—through cuts of the profit from restaurant deals offered to users in-app—but also help travelers feel a part of the local community.

“I believe that it’s important to bridge that cultural gap and the way to do it is to promote the mutual understanding between two cultures, to find a common ground,” Min said. “The culinary culture of a community is an important thing that can be used to find that mutual understanding.”

Learn more about how Blue Cheese can be used in a real-life scenario: 

Want to get in touch with Min about the Blue Cheese app? Send him an email

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