This morning, Sweetgreen announced they are opening their first pickup-only location in Washington DC’s Mt. Vernon Square neighborhood. Opening on August 1st, the new location will not have any dine-in seating, will feature shelves for pickup and delivery, and all food production will be hidden from sight behind the shelving system.
My first thought upon seeing the digital renderings of the new restaurant was it reminded a lot me of Eatsa’s spare tech-forward front-of-house. My second thought was maybe Sweetgreen has robot aspirations for the back of house like Eatsa once did.
A quick refresher to understand my line of thinking. Spoon readers may remember that Eatsa’s original vision included not only an automat-like front of house with rows of cubbies and ordering kiosks, but also included a long-term plan to roboticize the back of house. They even received a patent for a fully-automated food assembly system last year.
And then last year, Sweetgreen made a fairly surprising acquisition when they scooped up robotic restaurant startup Spyce. Surprising because just the year before, the company layed off its technology team, including the company’s head of automation.
Since that acquisition, Sweetgreen has closed the remaining Spyce branded restaurants and redeployed the Spyce team to work on solutions for Sweetgreen’s own restaurants. At the time of the deal, Sweetgreen said Spyce’s automation technology will allow its workers to focus more on customer service, expand its menu into warm foods, and make meal preparation more consistent.
With all that in mind, it makes one wonder if the new restaurant format is a logical landing place for Spyce’s automation technology. With a completely digital order flow, small kitchen footprint, and the design flexibility a completely new store format gives them, it makes sense that Sweetgreen might see its new pickup-only location as the perfect place to deploy Spyce’s kitchen robot technology.
Of course, this is all pure speculation, and there’s a good chance Sweetgreen might just stick with their traditional kitchens with humans doing the bulk of the cooking. But with the company’s founders’ original vision of creating a tech company that serves food, this new restaurant format might provide them just the opportunity they are looking for to put the robot business they acquired last year to good use.