Cafe X, the robot coffee chain, shuttered its three downtown San Francisco locations. The San Francisco Chronicle was first to report the news, and Cafe X Co-Founder and CEO Henry Hu confirmed the shutdowns yesterday on Twitter.
Cafe X builds standalone kiosks featuring a robotic arm that serves up hot and cold beverages. It had locations in San Francisco’s Metreon building, a dedicated store on Market St. and a pop-up-style location on Sansome and Bush St.
The downtown SF closures follow the recent launch of two new Cafe X locations at the San Jose Airport and San Francisco Airport. These new locations feature the latest version of the Cafe X robot, which includes an expanded menu and a customizable space for items like baked goods.
As part of that airport push, Cafe X had been working to get its NSF Certification so its robots can be designated as vending machines. In an interview with The Spoon in November, Hu said that this would allow Cafe X robots to operate longer hours and without a human on hand (Cafe X’s SF locations featured a person to help with drink selection and customer service).
In a tweet confirming the downtown closures, Hu wrote:
Our 3 downtown SF locations helped us develop the newest machine that we launched recently at SJC and SFO. Thanks to our amazing customers who supported us in SF over the last 3 years.
We received the following statement from Hu by email this morning:
We launched our prototype robotic coffee bars in San Francisco in 2017, in an effort to perfect our beverage offerings, software, and hardware solution.
We launched our newest V2.1 product at two airports, SFO and SJC, in Q4 of 2019, which now serve thousands of customers every week and is capable of preparing up to six drinks in a minute.
Having learned everything we could from our San Francisco locations, we decided to laser focus on growing Cafe X at airports through partnerships with leading coffee brands and retailers in addition to Cafe X operated units.
Cafe X has raised $14.5 million in funding, with its last round being $12 million back in August of 2018. The sudden shutdown of its three SF locations and the departure of its COO last August could be seen as some sort of harbinger of more bad news to come.
Food robot startups have hit some tough times recently. Zume, which uses robots to help make pizzas, is reportedly laying off 80 percent of its staff. And according to Axios, Creator, the robot hamburger restaurant also in SF, hit a fundraising snag when Softbank supposedly backed out of an investment deal.
The case for Cafe X optimism would be the company’s recent airport launches. Airports are a potentially big market for automated food service that can serve passengers and employees at all hours of the day. Cafe X robot coffee rival Briggo recently launched at the San Francisco airport as well and has signed a deal with SSP America to open up 25 more airport locations.
We have reached out to Cafe X to learn more and will update this story accordingly.