Engineering students at Stanford got tired of minimal food options on campus and high prices at the available locations. This struggle inspired Alex Kolchinski, Alex Gruebele, and Max Perham to create Mezli, a startup that makes fully autonomous modular restaurants. 

Kolchinski mentioned how they discovered that the $10 cost of a burrito bowl from Chipotle consists of $3 for food and the remaining $7 for labor, real estate, and overhead. That sparked the idea for a self-contained restaurant. 

The team also learned most chains did most cooking in mass in central kitchens and only had a few final steps to make meals on-site, such as heating and plating. They then concluded automating those final steps could provide meals at a smaller price. 

With backgrounds in soft robotics, aerospace engineering, and artificial intelligence, and the help of Michelin-star chef Eric Minnich, the students started Mezli. 

The startup has created a prototype robot, and the company hopes to launch its third version in 2022. Kolchinksi expects the company’s first publicly-deployed robot restaurant to serve hundreds of customers daily when it opens this year. Mass production will follow. 

The restaurants can currently handle foods including grain bowls, stews, soups, salads, sides, and drinks. Since the restaurants are smaller than traditional restaurants, the building process will emit less carbon, and reliability and predictability will limit discarded foods. 

Kolchinksi added that Mezli will deploy and operate the robot restaurants and will not act as a solution for existing restaurants. However, the company will look to partner with restaurants and chefs who want to deploy their own concepts to the robot locations.

It turns out that Mezli is showing up at the right time. A research report by TechNavio called “Artificial Intelligence Market in Food and Beverage Industry by Application and Geography” says AI in the industry will grow by $5.66 billion from 2021 to 2026.