How to Run a Robotic Pizzeria
Andrew Simmons shares his industry-leading experience
Andrew Simmons didn’t grow up dreaming of running the world’s most-watched robotic pizzeria, and yet that’s exactly where he finds himself. Every week industry experts closely monitors his social media updates, as he transitions from running “Mamma Ramona’s” - a cherished local red sauce joint in San Diego County, to getting up to speed with “Pizza Roboto” - his next-generation concept soon to open near the beach.
Getting here has been a task more herculian than Jetsonian. While Andrew has some restaurant bonafides — his father-on-law operates a regional food truck commissary — he was initially drawn more towards delivery than preparation and hospitality. Many years back he worked as a Domino’s driver, and while he liked interacting with the frequent customers, he noted how much the restaurant owner hated being a franchisee.
He took that lesson to heart when he later decided to open OrangeCrate, a delivery service focused on the more rural stretches of inland San Diego County, which at the time were far from Uber Eats and DoorDash’s radar. His ambitions growing, he soon found himself heading up The RMDA, an association that represents regional delivery companies from across the country.
“As much as I dislike DoorDash, I like the revenue.”
Evidently, something about that tomato sauce stuck with Andrew, as he was drawn back towards the pizza biz. He and a partner decided to buy up a local pizzeria as the owner was looking to retire, rechristening the joint “Mamma Ramona’s” when they got the keys in January 2020. A month and a half later, the world changed - and with it Andrew realized he was going to have to completely reorder the business if he wanted to stay afloat.
Like most other restaurateurs, he made delivery a fundamental part of the business. Even to this day, dine-in hasn’t returned to its old volume: takeout and delivery are currently about 85% of the sales mix. Despite having owned a local delivery company, these days Mamma Ramona’s does about four times the sales via 3PDs as it does from first party. “As much as I dislike DoorDash, I like the revenue,” quips Andrew, noting that pizza also has the margins to support the model.
Never content with the status quo, Andrew soon started experimenting with other ways to improve the company’s sales, including by launching a “pizza kit” - which they sold up to 300 of per week.
Building the Machine
The inspiration for going deep on automation really came around in 2022, in response to Governor Newsom signing a law that raised minimum wage for fast food workers to $22 per hour. Thinking that the law might eventually be expanded to cover all restaurants, and still dealing with labor shortages, Andrew turned to Picnic, ordering a three-part Pizza Station.
To complement that, the restaurant uses a dough press, plus TurboChef ovens. The goal is to get these pies out quickly and consistently. “I know exactly what it costs to make a 12 inch pepperoni pizza, like it's a cog in a machine" adds Simmons.
Adapting the Business with Subscriptions
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