The acceleration of robotics and automation in the restaurant industry continues apace, and with the industry currently crippled by a mass staff exodus, it looks like adoption of robotics is close to becoming a reality on the ground. That reality got a shot in the arm with Mezli, a start-up founded by Stanford-educated engineers Alex Kolchinski, Alex Gruebele and Max Perham.
The three students met while studying at Stanford and bonded over the lack of decent, affordable dining options on campus, explains co-founder Kolchinski.
“Alex G (my co-founder and CTO) and I were grad students at Stanford (he was working on robotics, I was working on AI) and, being both broke and busy, both were tired of having to either cook every night or spending $10+ to get a good meal out at Chipotle, Sweetgreen, the Stanford dining halls, etc.”
Being engineers, the three took to analysing the problem and developing a solution, employing their areas of study.
“We started looking into the economics of restaurants and of robotics companies to understand whether we could apply our technical skills to bring down the price point of great meals and realised that we could. We brought in Max, our third co-founder and also a Stanford alum, and through a lot of design and prototyping work, and a lot of conversations with restaurateurs, robotics experts, etc. came to our current approach.
The current approach is Mezli, a company that builds fully automated, modular restaurants. The solution is able to handle anything that goes in a bowl - grain bowls, soups, stews, salads, etc. as well as sides and drinks. They will also look into doing other types of food down the road and will also be experimenting with new bowl-style concepts, anything from salads to Indian bowls.
Of course, every restaurant needs a chef and Kolchinski says that partnering with Michelin-star chef Eric Minnich, formerly of The Commissary in San Francisco, has been critical to their success so far.
“He's the mastermind behind the Mezli menu and has been working with us since the early days on making sure the robot does the right things to make the food come out great, and that the menu is designed to do well with the robot's process,” says Kolchinski.
“Just like in Michelin-star restaurants, attention to food quality is one of our highest priorities, and having a chef who's able to bring that attention to the table has been central to our ability to develop our menu and improve our operations."
Mezli restaurants are autonomous units, however, and so far there are no plans to provide integrated solutions to existing restaurants. The company will be looking for the input of other chefs in the near future.
“We're going to be deploying and operating our robot restaurants ourselves, so it's not a plug-in solution for existing restaurant locations, but we will be looking to partner with chefs, restaurateurs, etc. who want to deploy their concepts to our robot locations in the future. So if an existing restaurant wanted to expand to new locations, or if an up-and-coming chef wanted to get out into the market without having to spend the money to open a new restaurant, they could work with us to roll out their concepts quickly to our robot locations.”