by Julie Barr
from MIT News
Four hungry MIT student-athletes were on a mission to find a filling, inexpensive meal and ended up creating the first robotic kitchen.
“It was a natural solution to the problem of creating inexpensive, healthy food. We just wanted to figure out how to cook in a new way,” says Kale Rogers ’16, who co-founded Spyce — a fast-casual eatery featuring a robotic kitchen — with his friends, fraternity brothers, and fellow Course 2 (mechanical engineering) graduates Braden Knight ’16, Luke Schlueter ’16, and Michael Farid ’14, SM ’16. “We wanted to see if we could automate the process and make it as efficient as possible so we could get a meal right around $7.50 as opposed to $12.”
With their minds set on reworking the process, their background in engineering started to come into play. “Because we were mechanical and electrical engineers and we loved robotics, we were motivated to make a robotic kitchen,” says Rogers.
To help turn their vision into a reality, they began a crash course in entrepreneurship in 2015. They connected with Christina Chase and Bill Aulet in the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, took an Independent Activities Period course on startups, and successfully applied to MIT’s 2015 Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator, now known as MIT delta v, where they completed their first prototype. Since graduating from MIT in 2016, they have been pursuing the business, finally opening their storefront in Downtown Crossing on May 3.
While they are still working out the flow of the restaurant, they are thrilled to see their dream come to life. The Spyce menu consists of half a dozen bowls that start at $7.50 with Latin, Mediterranean, and Asian influences. Ingredients are first prepped in a commissary kitchen and then loaded into the robotic kitchen. After customers place their personalized order on a kiosk, the process begins automatically, mixing the desired ingredients in the induction wok. All meals cook in three minutes or less and after emptying into a bowl, are garnished with cold ingredients like Vermont yogurt or cilantro, and handed to the customer.
Spyce is proving not only to be efficient, cost-effective, and practical, but also delicious. The flavor and quality of the food was something the team felt strongly about, so they got a well-known chef involved. They brought on Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud as culinary director and Sam Benson, of Café Boulud, as the executive chef for Spyce.
“We realized that it was very important to push the boundaries of flavors of what people could get in the fast-casual background,” says Rogers. “It’s kind of this cool fast casual, fine dining collaboration that we’re pretty excited about.”
Although they are proud of being the first restaurant to feature a robotic kitchen, the team at Spyce wants people to see that they are more than just a novel kitchen setup. “People typically will come in and say ‘robot restaurant, I gotta check this out,’ says Rogers. “But the exciting part is hearing them say they love how good and fresh the food is, because that’s the most important part. People will come once for the novelty but if we’re going to create something that helps solve this problem the food has to be good.”