A member of the White Castle team, along with Filipe Miso Robotics.
Courtesy: Miso Robotics
Before the end of this year, a brand new pizza purveyor is planning to hit the Los Angeles area. But this is not just another pizza place.
This company plans to deliver pizza from trucks and the pies themselves are assembled not by humans but by robots developed by former SpaceX engineers. The machine can produce a pizza every 45 seconds.
Benson Tsai, who founded Stellar Pizza in 2019 with fellow SpaceX engineers Brian Langone and James Wahawisan, got nearly two dozen former SpaceX employees to build a touchless pizza maker that fits in the back of a truck.
Stellar isn’t the first company to create robot-made pizza, and the business model’s early track record includes one notable failure. Softbank-backed Zume Pizza, previously valued at $4 billion, closed its robotic pizza delivery business in January 2020, and has since switched to making compostable packages.
Entrepreneurs do not abandon the concept of robot pizza. Wood-fired chef Anthony Caron of Cleveland, and robotic artisan pizza maker Piestro in Santa Monica, California, has a project to use automated pizza machines in brick-and-mortar locations and ghost kitchens in what they say will be a less expensive restaurant model. They plan to own 3,600 machines were deployed in the next five years.
The trend has moved beyond pizza, too, with Miso Robotics, the maker of Flippy 2 — the robot arm that powers the fryer at fast food restaurants — already deployed to Chipotle, White Castle, and the Wing Zone. It is introduced to the Middle East market as well through a partnership with Americana, the franchisor and franchisee with more than 2,000 restaurants in the region including KFC, Hardees and Pizza Hut.
Robot chefs are becoming ‘familiar’
Such machines will soon be deployed in restaurants, said Jake Brewer, chief strategy officer at Miso Robotics.
“I think if anyone wanted to, they could go see a robot working in a restaurant in 2024, 2025,” Brewer said. “You can go see the robots cooking now, and that’s only going to grow week by week.”
Chipotle Mexican Grill worked with Miso Robotics to customize the “Chippy” robot, which cooks and seasons Chipotle chips with salt and fresh lime juice. The robot is trained to recreate the exact recipe using artificial intelligence.
As of March, Chipotle has been testing the robot at its Irvine, California, Chipotle Cultivate Innovation Center. The company plans to use it at a restaurant in Southern California later this year and will determine whether to roll it out nationally.
“Right now, the general feeling is that there will be a lot of robots,” said Dina Zemke, an assistant professor at Ball State University. She said in the past that adding robots to employees was too expensive, but now more companies are making kitchen-ready robots, which helps drive prices down.
Finished pepperoni pizza emerging from a machine made by Stellar Pizza, a robotic mobile pizza restaurant created by a team of former SpaceX engineers
Media News Group / Long Beach Press Telegram | Media News Group | Getty Images
Robots are preparing fast food. “The recipes are highly standardized,” Zemke said. “And in fact, the assembly is mostly heated.” “No one just makes the right secret sauce in the back of the house; it’s all provided by the commissary system.”
Wing Zone, a 61-unit chain, is perhaps the most robot-friendly fast food restaurant out there at the moment. In May, the series expanded its relationship with Miso Robotics. The Wing Zone has been testing Flippy 2 in the final step of the wing-frying process and is using the Wing Zone Labs arm to develop fully automated wing zones.
Part of the adoption is driven by the inability to find workers. The National Restaurant Association reported last year that 4 out of 5 operators are understaffed, and public hiring in the leisure and hospitality category that includes restaurant staff has been the most challenging since the pandemic, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A recent report from Lightspeed found that 50% of restaurant owners Planning to install automation technology During the next two or three years.
For Chipotle, it’s not about replacing workers but letting them complete more impactful tasks than repetitive things like making chips.
It started with, ‘How do we remove some of the gloom of the worker standing at the fryer and the basket of frying chips after the basket of chips?'” Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief technology officer, told CNBC earlier this summer. “It allows our crew to spend more time doing cooking tests and serving guests,” he said.
Automation works best with cheap foods, said Richard Buck, a professor at Clemson University and an expert in using autonomous technology. “When you pay for it, when you pay more, you pay for expertise, art and expertise,” he said. “So I don’t know if these kinds of robots will be acceptable in high-end restaurants. People will wonder what they’re paying for.”
However, there is some fear in the broader restaurant market as well. a A recent opinion poll By Big Red Rooster it was found that a third of diners did not want to see robots preparing their food.
For founder Stellar Tsai, robots are a means to an end: making sure the company can deliver an affordable pizza that customers love. While pricing hasn’t been finalized, he said the target price is “definitely less than $10.” Tsai said a 12-inch cheesecake would cost about $7.
Stellar’s plan, which has raised $9 million in funding, includes national expansion.
“The pizza market is a big, big market, and as we kind of establish a foothold here in Los Angeles, we’re going to start growing and expanding toward Las Vegas, toward Phoenix, toward Texas,” Tsai said.
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