My generation is the first to have been fascinated by vending machines. I still think back to the wonder felt in front of modern 'greasy trees' full of things. An enchantment continued even further, and I'm not the only one. Come on, don't be ashamed: I know that you too have tried that terrifying hot chocolate just for the whim of seeing it come out of nowhere, as if by magic. Today things are decidedly off the scale: a few decades later, the "vending machines" strive to being bartenders, sell drugs, cars, even making pizzas.
The world's first fully autonomous robotic restaurant will open next week. It is part of a chain, Mezli, which I told you about last November in a post which talked about the potential of this startup. Well, because after a few years of experimentation and a robust set of funding, it's time to get serious.
Hunger sharpens the wits
Everything has been saved from the original formula. Mezli, as expected, will be the first place in the world to serve a complete menu to customers without any human intervention: “Poke” based on cereals and proteins, side dishes and drinks. A healthy but cost-prohibitive option for residents and workers of the San Mateo, California neighborhood, where the chain's first restaurant is opening its doors.
Mezli was founded by three young Stanford engineers: Alex Kolchinski, Alex Gruebele e Max Perham. The three recent graduates didn't have many cheap places to eat near the University. Using their technical knowledge, they collaborated with the Michelin-starred chef Eric Minnich to solve the problem with a combination of robotic and culinary innovation.
The team began working full-time on Mezli in January 2021, and during that year they opened a test pop-up restaurant involving partners and investors. The final turning point in June of this year, with the 3,5 million dollars in funding that allowed the definitive opening.
Whoever eats himself eats for three. And he spends a third
Unlike Mezli, other similar projects had achieved only partial automation of the hot and fresh menus, which required human involvement in the process. Or they had gotten full automation of simpler menus, like bowls of rehydrated noodles or cold salads. Mezli will be serving a fully customizable hot menu on demand without humans.
Imagine thousands of these outlets, and tell me if the title of my November post wasn't right: “The new McDonald's? It will be robotic ”. Putting aside any eschatological reflection on workplaces (the preparations to be distributed in the various restaurants, the logistics, the advertising promotion, the administration and who knows what else they will still need humans), the impact of Mezli could be positive.
An autonomous, technological, sustainable, scalable restaurant project (and therefore able to provide quality meals at a low price) that guides the improvement of our eating habits can transform our relationship with food.
The old chewing-gum dispenser has come a long way.