Food Service

Chipotle Founder to Open Meat-Free Concept “Kernel” Powered by Robots

Chipotle founder and ex-CEO Steve Ells is venturing back into the food industry with a new meat-free concept called Kernal. Set to open its first location in Manhattan early next year, Kernel will exclusively serve a meat-free, fast-casual menu, all crafted with the help of robotic technology.

The restaurant model features a streamlined operational process where a team of only three employees is needed to run each location. Customer orders are transmitted to the kitchen, where a robotic arm handles the food preparation and places pans in the oven. A programmed toaster warms up buns while conveyor belts move dishes through the kitchen. Employees then add any final touches, package the orders, and pop them into cubbies for the customers to collect. 

“We’ve taken a lot of human interaction out of the process and left just enough”

Ells highlighted to The Wall Street Journal that not only is this foodservice model more efficient and less wasteful, but it also helps to ensure better food safety. “We’ve taken a lot of human interaction out of the process and left just enough,” he said in a statement to the publication.

Not attempting to mimic beef or pork

Kernel’s menu focuses on plant-based sandwiches and sides emphasizing legumes and vegetables over newer meat alternatives. Ells clarified that Kernel’s veggie burger, for instance, is not attempting to mimic beef or pork, and that it aims to appeal to a broad audience beyond just vegetarians and vegans.

Karakuri Vegan Meat Products

Utilizing the efficiency of robots is a growing trend in plant-based foodservice. Just a few months ago, Sodexo and SavorEat officially deployed their 3D printing robot chef as part of a pilot project at the University of Denver. Earlier this year, Karakuri, a company developing robotics-powered kitchens, announced a partnership with Quorn to optimize the preparation of its plant-based meats using Karakuri’s specially automated /FRYR fry lines. 

The entrepreneur has committed $10 million of his personal funds to kickstart Kernel and secured an additional $36 million from investors, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Following the opening of Kernel’s first location in Manhatten at the beginning of next year, Ells mentioned plans for at least a dozen locations in New York over the next two years,

Ells concluded to The Wall Street Journal, “We think that we are onto something.”

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