Zenblen Brings Robo-Crafted Smoothies to New Environments

Founder Tom Zhang shares tech stack, milestones

These days, there’s a lot of excitement in the automation space about “smaller” improvements, mechanisms that slot in to a restaurant’s existing workflow and improve a cumbersome, laborious process, or a machine that allows brands to sell proven products in new locales. That’s not to say there’s anything sub-scale about their achievements, they just offer a much quicker ROI than say launching a nationwide fleet of trucks that prep pizzas on the go. Over the past few months we’ve heard from the likes of Rotender, Baozza and Omm; today we’ll get the DL from Tom Zhang, founder of Chicago-based smoothie machine startup Zenblen.

Ottomate: In your own words, tell us about Zenblen.

Tom Zhang: Zenblen is a Chicago based food tech startup and we’re on a mission to make healthy eating more accessible with our robotic smoothie bar.

O: What’s your background and what inspired the creation of this solution?

TZ: I come from a business background, I studied economics at the University of Chicago and started my career in strategy consulting. Health & wellness has always been important to me as I was a college athlete and currently attempting triathlons. I’ve been drinking smoothies every day for over 10 years, in fact I was known as the smoothie guy back at my office job. As the smoothie guy, I lobbied my way into starting a smoothie bar right in the office! We called it Smoothie Fridays where I would stop by the local supermarket in the morning on my way to work, buy ingredients, and blend smoothies for my colleagues. I did this religiously for over a year and it was during this experience that I noticed how much my colleagues loved fresh smoothies, but were still not making it themselves. Today’s consumers are busier and more health conscious than ever, and smoothies are a great solution to this - but there’s high friction in today’s options that’s leading the market to be tremendously underserved. I also noticed the rise of food robotics and automated retail around the same time, add the two together and that’s where the concept of Zenblen’s robotic smoothie bar came from!

Profile photo of Tom (Xinyuan) Zhang
Tom Zhang, Founder & CEO of Zenblen

O: What kind of milestones has the startup hit so far?

TZ: Our first robotic smoothie bar is in the field serving customers 24 hours/day! We served over 2500 smoothies to delighted customers in 2023 and are off to a blazing start to 2024. We currently have over 100 locations on our waitlist and recently signed a pilot with the largest food service provider in North America. We are also proud graduates of the Chicago Booth New Venture Challenge, alongside notable alumni like Grubhub & Braintree.

Meet Tom, and other tech innovators, this March 28-29 at Curbivore in Downtown LA. OttOmate Pro subscribers get complimentary admission.

O: Where do you envision placing these machines? What’s the differentiator you see for someone picking Zenblen versus a competitor, or versus using human labor?

TZ: We target to place our kiosks in locations that are part of our customers daily routines: residential buildings, commercial offices, fitness facilities etc. We pride ourselves in the quality of our customer experience and with a consistent delicious product every time. Our automation technology and compact footprint allows us to operate 24 hours a day ubiquitously so a fresh, healthy smoothie becomes more accessible than a cup of coffee.

O: Can you tell us a bit about the tech stack, how the machine works?

TZ: The reason we call it a “robotic smoothie bar” is because we’ve automated every step of a traditional smoothie bar.

Listen to this episode with a 7-day free trial

Subscribe to OttOmate to listen to this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.

Engaging discussions with the people building the future of food robots and automation.