Cafe X has shut down its San Jose and San Francisco airport operations, laid off staff and made a number of other market adjustments as the company adapts to the new realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Henry Hu, Co-Founder and CEO of Cafe X told us via Twitter messaging that with airport traffic decimated, thanks to the coronavirus, the two airport locations have been closed for months. He is unsure when they will reopen. Hu says that they are still in talks with other airports for new Cafe X locations.
At the same time, however, Cafe X has also started taking pre-orders for machines on its website, which lists the price at $200,000 per robotic kiosk ($5,000 deposit required), and says they will be shipped in Q4 of 2020.
Hu said that Cafe X is not a franchise, the company is just selling the machine and providing support, which can include recipes and menus if the customers wants. Additionally, customers can still choose to purchase coffee and supplies through Cafe X.
This is a little different from when Cafe X first started a couple years back, when the company was not only offering robot-made coffee, but also had a human on hand to provide a more curated coffee experience. The plan at that time was for Cafe X to own and operate its own machines.
The actual physical shape of the Cafe X machine has changed as well. Gone are the rounded corners of the kiosk, replaced with more square right angles.
It’s been a tumultuous year for Cafe X. In January, the company shuttered its three downtown San Francisco locations to focus on its airport business, and now those locations are closed as well. Hu said that because of the pandemic, Cafe X laid off most of its staff except for the engineers.
There does seem to be some light at the end of this COVID tunnel for Cafe X, however. Hu posted a photo on Twitter today of one of its robot kiosks being shipped off to Asia. Hu wouldn’t provide many details, but said its part of a big project in Asia that will include 150-plus machines over the next couple of years.
As I’ve written before, I’m all-in on automated vending machines like Cafe X and Briggo, especially during these pandemic times. Businesses and consumers alike will be looking for ways to reduce human-to-human interactions when it comes to getting their food. Robotic kiosks not only remove one human from the equation, but also hold all of their food and other ingredients behind glass walls away from people. Additionally, robots can run all day without taking breaks (or calling in sick). Spoon Plus subscribers can read my full report on the future of vending machines.
The pandemic is far from over (especially here in the U.S.), so we’ll see if COVID, which negatively impacted Cafe X though most of this year, could also come to the company’s rescue.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article said that Cafe-X’s order of 150 machines was happening over the coming year instead of over the next couple of years.