Your Guide to Restaurants-in-a-Box
Plus: You say Zomato, I say Mukunda, Bear's big Series B, AiFi also got a Series B, EBar, xRobotics, and Chipotle is feeling Chippy!
Before we begin, there was some kind of error with Substack this morning. This was supposed to go out to just paid subscribers (free subs would get it tomorrow), but Substack only sent it out to six people. I sent a note to support this morning, but still haven’t heard back, so I’m re-sending it now.
If you have received this email twice — I apologize.
Thank you for your patience, I appreciate it!
Out of the Box Thinking, In the Box Restaurants
So I could use your help naming something. This week I published the OttOmate Guide to Standalone Autonomous Restaurants. It’s a list of the key players making all-in-one robots that store, heat, and package up a variety of meals in a standalone kiosk.
Check out the video of Germany’s Aitme above (↑) and you’ll see what I mean. For the purposes of this guide, I limited it to startups making self-contained systems that serve hot (or cold) food, and can produce a variety of meals (so mono-tasking machines like Piestro were not included).
There are a number of startups making these types of restaurant-in-a-box robots that are coming to market this year. They promise to alter the existing foodservice landscape by offering a complete multi-menu cafeteria in a very small footprint. And they are already being used! Over in Europe, Aitme’s been installed at the AI Berlin Campus, and Karakuri’s Semblr robot is serving employees at Ocado’s headquarters.
In addition to replacing existing cafeterias, these kiosks can also extend a restaurant brand into new locations. The Nommi joint venture between Wavemaker Labs and C3 is starting with a “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto’s Sa’Moto restaurant brand, for instance.
But what should we call these machines? As someone pointed out, “Standalone Autonomous Restaurants” can be shortened to “SARs,” which… uhhh… no one wants to hear. Ever.
They are more robust than “machines,” and more lively than “kiosks.” They are literal restaurants in a box, but that sounds childish.
If you have ideas, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, check out the market guide to see who’s disrupting the future of restaurants.
Zomato Buys Stake in Mukunda Foods
I think this is a story that flew under the radar here in the U.S., but you should pay attention to it.
Indian food delivery giant Zomato bought 16.66 percent of Mukunda Foods for $5 million this week.
On a pure number basis, this isn’t huge news (see: Bear and AiFi’s raises below). But you should take note because of what it could do for the ghost kitchen business. Mukunda is building out its own global network of ghost kitchens and bringing on Zomato will add some zing to that endeavor for a few reasons (beyond, you know, having $5 million to scale up).
Back on the site I explain where the synergies are between the two companies and remind you that Mukunda made a robot that makes biryani. How cool is that?
It’s a Bear’s Market
Bear Robotics, which makes Servi the restaurant server robot, announced this week that it has raised an $81 million Series B round of funding. This brings the total amount raised by the company to $117 million.
The real story here is how this new capital will help Bear capitalize on the growing opportunity for restaurant robot servers here in North America. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that demand for server bots isn’t just coming just from big chains like Chili’s and Denny’s (both Bear customers). It’s also coming from smaller, mom n’ pop restaurants in smaller markets across the country. That means Bear is affordable and easy to set up.
That means Bear’s new money can help it establish a first-mover dominance in the hospitality sector here in the U.S.. Check out the full story where I explain that Bear’s big money will create a big opportunity for the company.
AiFi Raises $65M Series B
It’s been a big week for Series B rounds! Last Friday, cashierless checkout startup AiFi announced it had raised a $65 million Series B.
Yes, yes. That much money will buy a lot of cameras and computer vision processing power to retrofit stores and turn them into unattended retail experiences. But I think the more interesting aspect of the fundraise is who participated in this round:
ALDI South Group
Qualcomm Ventures (which is a returning investor)
What you got there, mon frère, is a nice mix of retail and technology partners helping power AiFi’s go-to market. Perhaps most intriguing is new investor Verizon because AiFi can run unattended stores on 5G, meaning they can pop up just about anywhere. You should pop back to OttOmate.news to learn more!
More Automated Pizza and Pints on the Way!
Not every product release is a major milestone, but when two companies I’m keen on both make updates to their hardware, it merits your attention.
EBar’s pint pouring robot got some aesthetic upgrades, with an improved design and branding materials, as well as an improved UI that could speed up purchasing.
And while you’re grabbing that beer, xRobotics released an update to its Pizza Cube that will make grabbing a slice a little bit faster. The company’s update allows the Cube to sauce, cheese and apply double pepperoni to a large pizza crust in 39 seconds. It’s just one more reason that xRobotics is a startup I can’t stop thinking about.
No Chip Shortage Here, Chipotle Checking out Miso’s Chippy
Chipotle checking out Chippy, a modified version of Miso Robotics’ Flippy, to make tortilla chips.
This deal reinforces a couple narratives about Miso. First, its pivot from grilling burgers to focus on frying is paying off: Chipotle, White Castle and Inspire Brands/Buffalo Wild Wings are all using some version of Flippy. Second, the Flippy platform is proving versatile with tweaks made not just for making chips, but for making chicken wings as well.
As The White Stripes sang, I said it once before but it bears repeating now: deep fryers are a good use case for restaurant robots. It’s a monotonous, dangerous job. Chippy will be able to make chips all day without getting burned or taking a break.
Dig into the details back at the site.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!
Stay cool. Have a great summer. Class of ‘90 rulez!