According to a recent write-up in Eater, over a dozen new robot-operated restaurants will soon be erected in New York, courtesy of Chipotle founder Steve Ells. The restaurant, which is called Kernel, will serve as a vegetarian-friendly, fast-casual dining spot run almost entirely by automated processes. According to Ells, who helped to produce the NBC cooking series America’s Next Great Restaurant, Kernel has stripped away all the difficult and confusing elements of human-to-human interaction, while leaving behind just enough to function seamlessly.
Kernel Locations Opening In New York City
At least 15 Kernel locations are currently being planned in New York, with the first set to break ground by early 2024. The following restaurants are set to follow suit within the next several years, offering vegetarian salads, sandwiches, sides, and more, to a wide variety of customers. The restaurants are being designed to take up a fraction of a normal eatery, with each location expected to take up 1,000 square feet or less, and employ only three human beings.
More Like Vending Machines?
For this reason, some have taken to referring to Kernel as more of a stationary food truck or vending machine than an actual sit-down experience. Luckily, however, the chain plans to have pricing and portion sizes on par with Chipotle, while offering higher pay and better benefits to the few humans behind the scenes. This should help to encourage some of Chipotle’s voracious fans to at least consider the vegetarian-friendly option, while making the hiring process highly competitive.
Food Safety Is Of The Utmost Importance
Kernel is also expected to utilize machines as a means to maximize food safety measures, which are incredibly important to the former Chipotle CEO. Under Ells’ watch, Chipotle famously had half a dozen foodborne illness outbreaks between the years of 2015 and 2018, resulting in over $25 million in fines being paid out by the company to the United States Justice Department. To prevent issues like this from arising again, Ells has spent $10 million in personal funding to ensure Kerel’s food safety protocols are 100 percent on the up and up.
Missing The Personal Touch
Despite Ells’ promise to reduce human staff in order to appeal to the antisocial consumers of today, recent studies have shown that most diners find restaurants to be increasingly understaffed and less personal than they would like, especially in a post-COVID society. While the efficiency of ordering food from an automated kiosk may reduce the window for human error or unsafe food practices, it may not be the selling point Ells’ believes it to be. Of course, there’s no concrete way to determine whether or not the business model works without giving it a try, leaving the experimental nature of Kernel highly intriguing.
Steve Ells Steps Away From Chipotle
Kernel serves as Steve Ells’ first foray back into the world of restaurants after stepping down from his position at Chipotle back in 2020. According to Ells, the past three years have been filled with learning experiences which have primed him for success in the vegetarian market. For those excited about the prospect of eating robot-prepared salads, the first Kernel locations will be opening soon, with a host of new information sure to arrive in the following weeks.