Customers ordering takeout from Cala often ignore it. But it is a robot and not a chef in a white toque who is busy in the kitchen to prepare pasta with bolognese sauce or carbonara.
Its productivity has few equivalents since it is capable of producing 400 dishes per hour, or even more if demand is sustained. Launched in the fall of 2020 via delivery platforms (Uber Eats, Deliveroo), Cala has since opened a restaurant to the public near the Jussieu campus in Paris, where it mainly attracts students.
The robot is clearly visible. Some customers pay attention, but most don’t – as long as the dish is hot and tasty. The idea of Cala was born in the inventive spirit of Ylan richard, who stopped his studies at 19 to found Cala with his associates Julien Drago and Nicolas Barboni.
“Our machines are developed from A to Z internally,” he explains. “The objective is to offer quality products, at affordable prices and for a young population”. Cala’s robot measures around three square meters, which is much less than a traditional kitchen. “With this system, we gain a lot of floor space,” insists the boss. The start-up can thus rent smaller premises and increase its margins – real estate is one of the main costs in catering.
“It also allows access to more commercial spaces, especially in places where it is impossible to open a traditional restaurant,” adds the entrepreneur. In contrast, Cala believes that the savings generated by replacing human staff with robots are quite marginal. To accelerate its development, the young company has just raised 5.5 million euros and intends to open an additional restaurant this year, and five others in 2022.
A model that must prove itself
Pazzi is another French start-up that believes in the potential of 100% automation of certain activities in the kitchen. After launching a pilot project in Val d’Europe (Seine-et-Marne), the start-up which raised 10 million euros in 2019 opened a restaurant in Paris this summer. She installed a robot capable of cooking 80 pizzas per hour. The latter occupies a floor space of 60 square meters and costs 500,000 euros. “The idea is to reduce the size to 29 square meters and lower the price to 300,000 euros in 2023”, specifies Philippe goldman, the leader of Pazzi.
In total, there are around ten young shoots in the world working in this field of foodtech (food automation). The economic model has yet to prove itself. Zume, a pioneer who raised $ 423 million to develop a pizza maker (in particular with SoftBank), was forced tomassively launched in January 2020 and focused on… in packaging !
But as the pandemic has led to a boom in home food delivery and the restaurant industry is experiencing a vocations crisis, there is growing interest in vending machines. “It’s a market that is moving a lot at the moment,” notes Philippe Goldman.
Spyce was acquired this year by the salad chain Sweetgreen and Chowbotics by DoorDash, which wishes to expand its offer of fresh meals.
“This shows that there are possible exits”, rejoices Philippe Goldman. Beyond its own restaurants, Pazzi wants to develop franchises and sell its technology under license to fast food specialists or “dark kitchen” players. The start-up is preparing to knock on investors’ doors again.