Stanford engineers built a fully autonomous restaurant in SF

If a robot making and serving you lunch sounds fancy and futuristic, Alex Kolchinski says you’re falling behind the times.

This weekend, Kolchinski’s company Mezli will open a fully autonomous restaurant in San Francisco. The eatery, also known as Mezli, will serve a variety of Mediterranean-themed cereal bowls created by Michelin-starred chef Eric Minnich. Kolchinski says it will be the world’s first fully self-managed restaurant, with a customizable menu more than 60,000 won possible variations, depending on the sides, add-ons, or alternatives you choose.

Other Robots food making machineand even simple concept self-managed restaurant – like This pizzeria in Paris – already exist. But rather than an expensive novelty, Kolchinski says Mezli’s goal is really to make your lunch cheaper, healthier and convenient.

“We realized that if we could run the foodservice business autonomously, we could actually lower our prices and start serving better food at a lower price without all people have to cook for themselves,” said Kolchinski, CEO and co-founder of Mezli. , told CNBC Make It.

The restaurant’s savings in terms of labor costs and space are reflected in its menu prices. Meals start at $6.99 for a bowl of grilled carrots and cauliflower, come with red rice, hummus, and other veggie garnishes and head out to $11.99 for rich options more protein than chicken or lamb.

That’s less than some of the pricier options at popular casual lunch chains like Sweetgreen or Chipotle, where you can spend up to $15 per lunch, says Kolchinski. According to a CNBC Make It analysis on the chain’s website, Chipotle’s cheapest burrito bowls start around $9, depending on your location.

How robots prepare your food

Comes in a blue and white box the size of a San Francisco shipping box food truck parkMezli has a high-tech oven and robotic machines that heat prepared ingredients and mix them together in a variety of combinations.

Mezli’s fully automated restaurant offers a customizable menu with a variety of Mediterranean-themed cereals and protein bowls.

Source: Mezli

As a customer, you make your selections – like a bowl of falafel, spiced lamb and tzatziki with veggies, turmeric rice, hummus, cookies and a drink on the side – from one of the displays. digital picture on the side of the box. Inside, the machine heats, mixes, and platters the ingredients associated with your particular order.

A few minutes later, the restaurant will deliver your order from the pickup window at the bottom of the box. Mezli can currently serve about 75 meals an hour, which, according to Kolchinski, is on par with most large casual restaurant chains.

There is still an important human element to Mezli’s process. Minnich, the founding chef who devised Mezli’s adaptive menu to work with the restaurant’s robotic technology, leads a team of chefs in an off-site kitchen who prepare ingredients that are prepared delivered and loaded into the restaurant Mezli in the refrigerator.

Kolchinski says the ingredients are prepared to food safety standards in the off-site kitchen. Some people have extra time cooking in restaurants “for freshness and quality,” he added.

Ahead of Mezli’s grand opening on August 28, Kolchinski said the automated restaurant had a “light opening” that included a few private events and public testing dates. “Having this kind of new experience, I think people don’t know what to expect,” he said. “And when they finally get served good food, that’s great for them. People are generally a mix of surprise and satisfaction.”

At first, Mezli staff will be nearby to explain the restaurant concept to customers curious and looking for potential improvements. Finally, the restaurant doesn’t need any human supervision, says Kolchinski.

That is likely to make some customers uneasy. After all, what if a machine misfires your command – or you simply want to send something back because it didn’t turn out the way you expected?

At a typical restaurant, you can complain to the wait staff and potentially get a refund or a replacement meal. At Mezli, the customer service element looks like calling or emailing the company to provide your feedback, although that system doesn’t guarantee an immediate response.

“There are ways for people to contact us, even if there’s no one on the site at the time,” says Kolchinski.

Mezli may finally come to a city near you

Kolchinski co-founded Mezli in 2021 with Stanford engineers Alex Gruebele and Max Perham. The trio came up with the idea as fresh graduates, struggling to find convenient, healthy lunch options for under $15.

They studied restaurant economics and discovered that food ingredients cost very little compared to the cost of labor and renting or building the restaurant’s physical space. When you buy a bowl from Mezli, about half of your money will cover the cost of the meal, says Kolchinski. At most restaurants, the cost of ingredients makes up about a third of the price of a meal, he added.

Mezli customers can collect orders prepared by an automated system from the pick-up window on the outside of the restaurant.

Source: Mezli

Using machines can eliminate some human work, says Kolchinski, but it allows the company’s human chefs to focus more on what they love most – actual cooking and preprocessing – instead of repetitive, time-consuming steps like taking orders, plating and serving them. for customers.

Mezli may serve food, but it’s actually a tech startup: The company developed prototypes in late 2020 and was accepted into the Y Combinator startup incubator later that year. It raised about $3.5 million in seed sponsorship from venture capital firms Share Capital and Metaplanet Holdings.

“All in all, it took us over a year and a half to design and build the current version of Mezli that’s coming out this weekend,” says Kolchinski.

The results of the soft opening are promising, says Kolchinski, but Mezli will have to prove it can attract enough hungry customers to make a profit and attract more capital before it can even think of launching. to additional locations.

The first new locations will spring up elsewhere in California’s Bay Area: Kolchinski notes that his company can reduce profits and even reduce costs with new locations powered by the same head. The kitchen is preparing food in an off-center kitchen.

The company could also expand into other cuisines, like Korean or Thai. “The good thing is the [machines] “It’s unbelievable what they serve,” said Kolchinski. So the real issue is updating the ingredients that are delivered in the morning and the software allowing people to order, and you can have a whole new menu.”

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