Donatos Pizza, with 434 locations in 27 states, is developing its own pizza vending machine, with plans to deploy the first unit in Columbus, Ohio, the chain’s hometown, the company has announced.

According to a press release, Donatos and its sister companies, Agápe Automation and The Grote Company, have entered into an exclusive partnership with Appletronix (formerly called SJW Robotics) in a “groundbreaking collaboration.” The partnership “will pave the way for the development of a standalone, fully autonomous restaurant that combines cutting-edge technology with the art of creating delicious pizzas.”

The machine will “leverage state-of-the-art robotics and data science technologies, enabling a seamless and efficient dining experience for customers, from placing orders to receiving their pizza,” the press release states.

Jane Grote Abell puts the Golden Rule into action at Donatos

Donatos founder Jim Grote is as much an engineer and inventor as a pizza magnate. He founded the family-owned Donatos in 1963 and grew it into a midwestern pizza empire. In the early 1970s, he invented the Peppamatic to slice pepperoni sticks faster, and it’s now commonly used in the frozen pizza industry.

He also founded Agape Automation, The Grote Company and the Edge Innovation Hub to design new technologies—which the Grote family calls Sm^rt Machines—that automate the pizza-making process.

When Grote stepped down as Donatos’ executive chairman and turned the reins over to his daughter, Jane Grote Abell, retirement was the last thing on his mind. “He wanted to be able to invent [new technologies] on the cutting edge,” Abell told PMQ earlier this year. “He’s constantly learning and exploring.”

More recently, Grote co-invented the Smart Saucer, a machine that draws pizza sauce from a reservoir and dispenses it onto the pizza crust, gauging the total weight to ensure consistency from pizza to pizza. That invention is currently in use at several dozen company-owned Donatos locations.

Agápe Automation and The Grote Company will co-develop the pizza vending machine with Appetronix. Agápe Automation focuses on new technologies for both fully autonomous stand-alone restaurants as well as small prep-bots for existing restaurant kitchens. The Grote Company is a leading manufacturer of state-of-the-art slicing and food assembly equipment.

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Appetronix brings to the table its expertise in advanced robotics and data science solutions, enabling automation and optimization of restaurant operations. Through the partnership with Donatos, Appetronix said it “aims to revolutionize the restaurant industry by introducing a new era of autonomous dining experiences.”

“With 50 years of expertise in food automation and 60 years of making and serving the very best pizza, our family is eager to partner with Appetronix to deliver the world’s first commercialized, fully automated restaurant that makes fresh, high-quality pizza,” Grote said in a statement.

“We are truly honored to partner with the Grote family and contribute to the future of one of the most iconic pizza brands in the United States,” said Nipun Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Appletronix. “The collective experience of our combined teams now has an amazing platform to dramatically transform the restaurant industry and accelerate our growth strategy.”