Last fall, fast-casual darling Sweetgreen became a newly minted unicorn when it raised $200 million at over a $1 billion valuation.
At the time, the company’s CEO talked about leveraging technologies like IoT and blockchain to build upon what the company called its “best-in-class” operating model and supply chain to create a restaurant “platform“.
That all makes sense. But is the Culver City based startup also looking to incorporate automation and robotics as part of its next-generation restaurant offering? If its recent hire of a food robotics expert is any indication, the answer is probably yes.
This week, Derek Pietz, a former employee of restaurant equipment giant Middleby, changed his job title on Linkedin to Sweetgreen’s “Head of Automation.” Pietz had previously worked for Middleby’s robotics and automation division, Lab2Fab (L2F for short), which the commercial restaurant equipment giant had quietly acquired in the last couple of years.
While at L2F, Pietz and his team not only worked with high profile startups like Zume to develop food robots, they also developed robot restaurant proof of concepts like “Middleby Market,” which the company describes an “automated food court.” As described on the company’s website, Middleby Market could have four “islands of automation” delivering “upscale food and drinks” with a single chef serving up a dining experience for up to 32 people.
The concept, which looks like a Zume pizza kitchen on steroids, can be seen in action below:
Ok, sure, it’s just one hire, so it’s probably too soon to say whether Sweetgreen is going to build a bunch of robotic restaurants. And to be sure, given the chain’s emphasis on authenticity and an in-venue experience that places a premium on staff-customer interaction, chances are good you’ll never see something so automation-forward as, say, a Cafe-X or Eatsa.
But as anyone who follows advances in food robotics knows, embracing newer automation concepts doesn’t have to mean pushing mechanized experiences directly into the faces of customers. Some even argue that thoughtful integration of robotics and AI might actually mean freeing up employees to do things humans are better at, like providing white glove service to customers. And, given Sweetgreen’s stated desire to improve what is already one of the industry’s most technology-optimized restaurant businesses with more technology, you have to at least ask what hiring one of the chief visionaries behind futuristic robotic restaurant concepts like Middleby Market means for the future of Sweetgreen.
That’s exactly what I did, and not surprisingly, Sweetgreen didn’t want to comment on any future moves into robotics or automation. So I guess we’ll just be left to wonder, what exactly a robot-powered Sweetgreens of the future might look like.
If you want to hear from those building the future of restaurant robotics, you won’t want to miss ArticulATE, our food robotics summit on April 16th in San Francisco!