Dishcraft Robotics, which uses robots and AI to automate dish cleaning for high-volume eating establishments, announced today that it has raised a $20 million “Series A1” round of funding. The round was led by new investor Grit Ventures with participation from existing investors First Round Capital, Baseline Ventures, Fuel Capital, and Lemnos. Dishcraft has raised $46 million in total funding to date.
When we last checked in with Dishcraft in January of this year, the company had just publicly come out with Dishcraft Daily, which is basically dishes as a service for foodservice locations like cafeterias. As we wrote back in January:
Each day, Dishcraft arrives at the end of lunch service, picks up all the dirty dishes that have been stacked into special carts, and drops off clean ones. Dirty dishes are taken back to the Dishcraft facility and loaded into the cleaning robot.
The Dishcraft robot uses computer vision, sensors, UV light and AI to detect the cleanliness of each dish as it goes through the machine. This technology, Dishcraft says, makes for cleaner plates because the machine can detect (and clean) any particles remaining that the human eye can’t.
However, the global pandemic hit shortly after the launch of Dishcraft Daily, forcing foodservice operations like corporate and college cafeterias to shut down. But rather than twiddle its thumbs to wait this whole thing out, Dischcraft adapted.
As part of today’s announcement, Dishcraft said it will use the new money to expand its daily dish delivery to now include reusable to-go containers and utensils. The reusable container program had been on the company’s roadmap, but was accelerated because takeout became the main, if only way, for foodservice companies to get meals out. But as anyone who’s ordered meal delivery during this global lockdown knows, restaurant food is packed in single-use plastic containers. That might help people eat right now, but those containers are definitely bad for the environment in the long term.
According to the press release, the reusable containers will allow cafeterias, caterers and restaurants “to offer diners individually portioned takeaway meals in reusable containers that meet health guidelines for sanitization and hygiene.” The program will start with corporate cafeterias and cafes, with to-go container return bins set up around the office. Those full bins will then be collected by Dishcraft to be sanitized every day. It’s easy to see how this could expand to colleges with bins placed around campus.
Dishcraft hasn’t fully worked out how it would integrate its to-go container program into restaurant operations, but Linda Pouliot, Founder and CEO of Dishcraft told me by phone this week that some options could be working with cities to set up designated collection areas, or even possibly Dishcraft creating its own curbside pickup service.
Restaurants and other foodservice companies are only just now coming out of quarantine and only in certain parts of the country. There are still lots of questions about exactly how they will re-open and what that will look like. One thing we do know from a recent Washington State University study is that consumers are nervous about going right back into restaurants and as my colleague Jenn Marston wrote:
Consumers surveyed for the report said that sanitation efforts like masks for servers, hand sanitizer stations, and other visible efforts, like seeing staff clean tables and chairs, will be the most important safety precautions.
Dishcraft’s sanitization service could then be attractive to restaurants looking to entice people back into their businesses. “We have such a closed system,” Pouliot said, “Our goal is that no human hand touches the dishes before it gets to the diner or plated.”
Dishcraft is available in the Bay Area, and currently counts Affirm and foodservice company Guckenheimer among its customers. Dishcraft said that it will expand the size of its dishwashing hub in San Carlos, CA.