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08/22/2022

Restaurant run by robots to open in SF; plans nationwide expansion

Marianne Wilson
Editor-in-Chief
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Mezli storefront
Mezli is taking its robotic store concept nationally.

It’s not a restaurant in the traditional sense — and it certainly doesn’t look like one. 

Mezli, a fully-autonomous robotic restaurant that resembles a large refrigerated container, will open in the Spark Social food park in San Francisco, Sunday, August 28th.  The high-tech eatery is described by its founders as the “first of its kind in the world.”

While other automated restaurants have opened in San Francisco and other select locations (and while many fast-food chains continue to automate parts of their operations), Mezli is the first to offer a customizable, hot menu to customers— with no on-site workers, according to its founders. (With one exception: Staffers will load the pre-prepared ingredients into the site once a day.) 

The automated approach, which significantly cuts labor costs, will allow Mezli to offer its menu of Mediterranean grain bowls, sides and beverages at a significantly lower price point than similar fast-casual restaurants, the company said, providing a healthy, convenient and affordable dining option for neighborhood residents and workers. 

In addition to the ready-made bowl offerings, customers using touchscreens,  can assemble their own from available ingredients, creating around 64,800 possible combinations.

Mezli was founded by a team of Stanford engineers: Alex Kolchinski, Alex Gruebele and Max Perham. As graduate students at Stanford, they found that they had no nearby food options that were convenient, affordable and healthy. Putting their technical backgrounds to use, they teamed up with Michelin-star chef Eric Minnich to solve the problem with a combination of robotic and culinary innovation.  Both the food and technology were developed in-house.

“By developing our menu alongside our technology, we’ve been be able to both create custom-tailored robotics to serve our food at the highest possible level of freshness and quality, and build a menu well-adapted to our robot’s abilities,” the company stated.

The team started full-time work on Mezli in January of 2021 while participating in the Y Combinator startup accelerator and working out of KitchenTown, a food and tech innovation center in San Mateo. During 2021, the team opened a pop-up restaurant, built a prototype robot, and brought on a number of employees and investors.

Looking ahead, the Mezli team plans to expand their concept to multiple locations nationwide while also widening the culinary options available through its platform.

“Because robotic Mezli restaurants are smaller and cheaper to build than traditional fast-casual restaurants, they can be deployed in a wider range of locations,” the company said.