Sprinkles, Kitchen United, Sweetfin, Stellar Pizza Founders Talk Automation & Delivery Robotics
From Coco delivery bots to robotic pizza trucks
A tunafish, a ghost kitchen and a pizzaiolo walk into a cupcake bar… wait, stop me if you’ve heard this one before! Okay, it’s not the setup to a very specific joke, it’s the background for an incredibly food and automation centric discussion earlier this month at Curbivore. Stellar Pizza CEO & Co-Founder Benson Tsai, Kitchen United CEO Michael Montagano, Sprinkles & Pizzana Founder Candace Nelson and Sweetfin Co-Founder & President Seth Cohen sat down with Restaurant Insider’s Nancy Luna to discuss how their organizations are capitalizing on automation and robotics.
The big picture is that all the operators, with hundreds of units between them, see automation as only getting more and more integral as a way to manage costs in a tough operating environment.
“We’re really invested in building out our tech stack.” - Seth Cohen, Sweetfin
Reflecting on decades of experience, automation used to be a way to make a splash and stand out from the crowd. Sprinkles’ Candace Nelson shared that the cupcake ATM came from a “personal frustration,” a few years after she started the modern upscale cupcake retailing trend. Finding herself in the late stage of a pregnancy and craving a late-night cupcake, she dreamt up the machine as a way to provide for anyone jonesing for a sweet treat. In an era of less prominent restaurant automation, the idea was an immediate hit, proving to be a media and influencer darling. Folks shared the novel dining experience far and wide, instantly drawing in a new customer base.
First party delivery with robots at Sweetfin & Kitchen United
Sweetfin operates 18 poké restaurants across California. Known for originating the fish bowl trend (outside of Hawaii,) the company continues to be a leader in the restaurant space, and its approach to automation is no different. “We’re able to park these robots outside of our restaurants. The moment a bag is sealed and stapled, we’re able to drop the product directly in the [Coco] robot,” said company President Seth Cohen. “Instead of having a 45-minute delivery wait time… where a courier is dispatching multiple orders at once… we're able to drop our bags in the robot and they're being delivered… under 15 minutes.” Speed is especially important for a temperature sensitive meal like fish, and consumers also appreciate the reduced costs.
Kitchen United’s CEO Michael Montagano agreed with that sentiment, as his company works to pump out deliveries as quickly as possible. Kitchen United operates a number of locations that double as both ghost kitchens and food halls, with the operator going after high-foot traffic locations like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade (which will soon host the first branch of Chipotle’s new Farmesa bowl concept.) Kitchen United looks to prime locations to make “delivery pickup more efficient, increase payloads in cars and ultimately make the customer more satisfied with a smaller fee.” While other ghost kitchens look for more marginal, low-cost real estate to operate from, Kitchen United finds that prime locations not only allow for walk-up customers, but facilitate delivery by robots that might not be able to make a longer distance trip to and from an industrial location.
Robotics is baked in at Stellar Pizza
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