Food Biz

Can This Comic Book App Teach Kids How to Eat More Mindfully?

December  7, 2016

At the end of October, though it didn't hit the press until late last month, brothers Justin and Terry Raimey, two Ohio-based entrepreneurs, launched an iOS and Android app for Black Streak Kitchen. It was a company they launched in 2011 with the aim of encouraging more mindful eating habits in American young adults through recipes and videos drawn in the style of comic books.

“America as a whole has been experiencing an increase in preventable diseases that are linked to our bad eating habits,” Terry told me yesterday, citing a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailing a 30% spike in children who have type-2 diabetes between 2000 and 2009. “Conditions like childhood diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are on the rise, especially amongst African-Americans,” he claimed.

Two sons of a military father, the Raimeys had a slightly nomadic upbringing that exposed them to a wide range of foods; they criss-crossed between Hawaii, Texas, Colorado, and Ohio, where they currently reside. “Having diverse life experiences has also allowed us to eat foods from various cultures,” Terry told me. “Growing up, our parents cooked every day. Our meals usually consisted of a lean protein, vegetables, and a grain.”

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Neither of the brothers lost this love for food as they grew up. “Food is the greatest thing that can bring people together, be it a cookout or dinner with family and friends,” Terry told me. “Our experiences with eating foods from around the world, learning how fusing ingredients and spices bring out bolder and more satisfying flavors, and knowing the importance of eating for health rather than comfort all went into Black Streak Kitchen.”

In 2011, when Terry was serving in the U.S. Air Force, he noticed that Justin, who was still in high school, had amassed an online following for his artwork. They decided to harness their respective talents and marry them to their love of food. And so started Black Streak Kitchen.

Right now, the app only contains one comic recipe, along with seven animated shorts dedicated to spices like thyme and allspice. The recipes—and, in particular, the way they're presented in comic format—promote the use of wholesome ingredients, consistently driving home the benefits of each. (Of the recipes they’ve created, Terry told me his favorite is a Honey Ginger Shrimp Stir Fry and Quinoa Recipe.)

The app’s visual style is the byproduct of Black Streak's comics, drawn in the style of Japanese anime and manga characters. The brothers were conscious of what kinds of characters they wanted to represent—after all, anime and manga can be a notoriously un-diverse lot. And so the brothers made a point of making sure their characters had more racial parity in their representation, with different skin tones and hair styles, which, he says, “makes the app more visually appealing to people of color.”

Since launching the app in October, they’ve had about 760 downloads and counting. (Terry was unable to tell me what the demographic breakdown of usage was.) They’ve seen an uptick of downloads in the past day—400 installs in one day—which he attributed to finally having “broken through the noise.” When I asked where the company's funding comes from, Terry responded, “Me, myself and I!”

Eventually the brothers hope to grow Black Streak to the point where it’s a self-sustaining business that can scale, providing them a steady paychecks. They’ve got heady plans for next year, too. They’re launching the first book of their serialized comics on January 15th, and they’re hoping that it’ll be so successful both commercially and critically that they can both leave their day jobs and focus on Black Streak “110%.” They’ve also recruited the help of Chef Ed Harris, winner of Food Network’s Chopped Season 4 and Iron Chef International, to write recipes for the comics and be featured as a character. “We want to build a network of chefs through our comics and app and help them build their brands, and bring their culinary talents to the forefront,” Terry told me.

It’s not exactly news that the space for cooking and healthy eating apps is saturated. Upon first glance, though, it seemed that the brothers saw an opening for their app to speak to a particular demographic in a way that other apps haven't, through a more compelling and accessible visual format—something Terry confirmed. “We’re not looking at any apps and saying, Hey man, I’m coming for you!,” he told me. “We’re just two guys who decided to release an app, have fun, and hustle it to stardom.”

The first issue of Black Street Kitchen Comics is available for pre-order here. You can download the app for iOS and Android.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.