Creator, the San Francisco restaurant made famous by its burger-making robot, was among the thousands of restaurants shut down by the pandemic (even though it engineered an awesome germ-free airlock delivery system). But the restaurnt announced today that it is back with a new location in Daly City, California, and that is has a brand new robot that customers can control.
Creator’s new robot is a little different from its first incarnation, offering a new array of functionality. The robot is faster, capable of cooking a burger in less than four minutes (when there are no other burgers in the order queue). It also holds 25 different seasonings and sauces that can be dispensed down to the milliliter. Gone from this version of Creator’s robot, however, are the automated toppings like lettuce, tomato and cheese, which humans will no apply to the burger themselves.
But perhaps the biggest change for Creator’s robot is how customers can interact with it. “We’re going to allow anyone to take control of the robot,” Creator Founder Alex Vardakostas told me via video chat this week. Customers can download the Creator mobile app and tweak the seasonings and sauces to their liking. These settings can then be saved and shared, which allows for someone like a well-known chef to “brand” their own burger program that people can replicate.
Another nice new feature is that when you place an order now, Creator’s system will let you know exactly long your wait time will be before your food is ready for pickup.
In addition to all these front-facing changes, Vardakostas said that there are also a number of back-end improvements to the robot that help with production and growth. “The new system is hyper scalable,” he said, “and way more reliable.” It’s these types of back-end changes that will allow Creator to manufacture robots en masse and expand in different ways. Vardakostas said that Creator’s growth will include a mix of owned and operated locations, licensing deals that still carry the Creator brand, and a white-label approach where the machine is modified for another restaurant’s use.
Despite all this technology, Creator remains a very human-focused eating experience. Vardakostas said his team looked at using ordering kiosks, but decided to stick with human order takers. “For a lot of us, we want to talk to a human,” he said.
Speaking of humans, unlike other restaurants, Vardakostas said that finding and hiring workers has not been a problem. “Labor has been a slam dunk. It’s been super easy,” he said. Part of that Vardakostas attributes to Creator being as much a tech company as it is a restaurant company. “Overall, a lot of people want to move into tech,” he said. But there certainly other factors at play, such as not having to work over a hot grill (since the robot does the cooking), Creator also helps with professional development by paying for things like Coursera classes (though a lot of QSRs offer something like that now). Creator does provide an upward path into the technology/robotics sector, however. Vardakostas said that Creator recently promoted two restaurant workers into its development lab.
Creator is part of a larger movement towards automation in the food industry, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. Robots can work all day without taking break, don’t get sick or injured, and can help free up space for social distancing in the kitchen. As a result, there are a number of restaurant robots either at market or on their way. Miso Robotics’ Flippy is working the deep fryers at White Castle. Hyphen just introduced its new Makeline robot assembly system for Sweetgreen-style restaurants. And Picnic just announced the commercial availability of its pizza assembling robot.
For those in the Bay Area who have not yet tried Creator’s robot-made burger (ed. note: They are delicious), you can visit the restaurant’s new location in the Westlake Shopping Center at 514 Westlake, Daly City.