Automation has some key benefits to the industry. But we'd like a closer look under the hood before Spyce gets anointed (again) as the next great thing.
— Erika Adams
Out of all the burger-flipping, pizza-making robots that are battling it out to automate the restaurant kitchen, Spyce‘s business model has caught particular interest among high-profile restaurateurs. It’s essentially an automated, cheaper version of Sweetgreen or Dig Inn: vegetable-forward, customizable bowls of food that start at $7.50.
Michael Farid and Kale Rogers, two of Spyce’s co-founders and CEO and chief operating officer, respectively, spoke on a panel at a restaurant tech conference in New York City this week. Award-winning chef Daniel Boulud, a Spyce investor and the team’s culinary director, was also on the panel.
Boulud invested in Spyce two years ago, and was instrumental in bringing on high profile chefs Thomas Keller, Gavin Kaysen, and Jérôme Bocuse to participate in Spyce’s $21 million Series A funding round, which closed in September.
In a separate interview, Boulud noted that he was also an early investor in both Sweetgreen and Munchery, a struggling food delivery service. (“That wasn’t really my smartest move, but my daughter pushed me to do that,” Boulud said with a laugh.) On the future of Spyce, Boulud said that an acquisition by Sweetgreen or a similar tech-forward fast casual chain “is not the goal” for the company, but that it is focused on expansion in the U.S. and beyond.
Speaking on the panel, Farid said that the robotic systems can churn out 150 to 250 bowls per hour, and customers can be in and out of the restaurant in approximately three-and-a-half to four minutes. The robotics are pretty stable, too: the system has gone down in one form or another for a cumulative hour in the roughly six months that Spyce has been running. The restaurant will begin testing delivery later this year, although Farid specified that Spyce would never be a delivery-only concept.
On labor, Farid was careful to explain that Spyce is automating the particularly grueling kitchen work — washing dishes, standing over hot equipment for hours. There are still human employees staffing the restaurant, prepping food and helping customers. In automating the tougher roles, Farid thinks that Spyce is doing a service to the industry. “I think people appreciate what we’ve done,” Farid said. “That’s why we don’t really get a lot of flack for what we’re doing. Restaurateurs are generally very excited about what we are doing.”
Naturally, the first question from the audience was about labor costs. Labor can account for anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of an operator’s total sales, depending on the concept (and it can go higher in California). Given Spyce’s automated kitchen, are the restaurant’s labor costs drastically lower?
However, Farid declined to comment on Spyce’s labor costs as a percentage of sales, with no further explanation. When Skift Table approached him after the panel, he again declined to comment on labor costs and staffing.
So, for now, here’s what we know: Spyce is a fast casual restaurant with an automated kitchen and a growing, excited customer base in Boston. The founders have money in their pockets from some of the biggest names in the industry, they’re starting to scale next year, and whatever their labor situation is, they’re definitely not bragging about it.