Mezli isn’t the first automated restaurant to roll out in San Francisco, but, at least according to its three co-founders, it’s the first to remove humans entirely from the on-site operation equation. Eater SF reports: About two years and a few million dollars later, Mezli co-founders Alex Kolchinski, Alex Gruebele, and Max Perham are days away from firing up the touch screens at what they believe to be the world’s first fully robotic restaurant. To be clear, Mezli isn’t a restaurant in the traditional sense. As in, you won’t be able to pull up a seat and have a friendly server — human, robot, or otherwise — take your order and deliver your food. Instead, Mezli works more like if a vending machine and a restaurant had a robot baby, Kolchinski describes. It’s a way to get fresh food to a lot of people, really fast (the box can pump out about 75 meals an hour), and, importantly, at a lower price; the cheapest Mezli bowl starts at $6.99.
On its face, the concept actually sounds pretty simple. The co-founders built what’s essentially a big, refrigerated shipping container and stuffed it with machines capable of portioning out ingredients, putting those ingredients into bowls, heating the food up, and then moving it to a place where diners can get to it. But in a technical sense, the co-founders say it was quite difficult to work out. Most automated restaurants still require humans in some capacity; maybe people take orders while robots make the food or, vice versa, with automated ordering and humans prepping food behind the scenes. But Mezli can run on its own, serving hundreds of meals without any human staff.
The food does get prepped and pre-cooked off-site by good old-fashioned carbon-based beings. Mezli founding chef Eric Minnich, who previously worked at Traci Des Jardins’s the Commissary and at Michelin-starred Madera at Rosewood Sand Hill hotel, says he and a lean team of just two other people can handle all the chopping, mixing, cooking, and portioning at a commissary kitchen. Then, once a day, they load all the menu components into the big blue-and-white Mezli box. Inside the box, there’s an oven that either brings the ingredients up to temp or finishes up the last of the cooking. Cutting down on labor marks a key cost-saving measure in the Mezli business model; with just a fraction of the staff, as in less than a half dozen workers, Mezli can serve hundreds of meals. “The fully robot-run restaurant begins taking orders and sliding out Mediterranean grain bowls by the end of this week with plans to celebrate a grand opening on August 28 at Spark Social,” notes Eater.