Featured in the Pizza Power Report 2024:
- Pizza Power Report 2024: Are We Living in a Golden Age of Pizza?
- How the Leading Chains Are Using AI to Sell More Pizza
- Old-School Operators Make Peace with Robots
- Watch Your Back, Papa Johns! Top Pizza Chains Clash for Supremacy
- Loyalty Programs: Why Points-for-Pizza Is Not Good Enough
- Why Gas Station Pizza Is Your Next Big Competitor
- Culture Is Key to Attracting High-Performing Young Workers
- The 25 Most Critically Acclaimed Pizzerias in the U.S.
- The 25 Most Popular Pizzerias in the U.S.
- Ranking the Top 10 U.S. Pizza Brands by Units and Sales
- Which Pizza Chains Are Dominating the Internet?
- Which Independent Pizzerias Are Dominating the Internet?
By Rick Hynum
Lee Kindell, co-owner of Moto Pizza, might be an old-school pizzaiolo, but he never wants to get stuck in the past.
That’s why Kindell has begun incorporating robots into his operations at Moto Pizza, with four stores in Seattle. He’s starting with just one—the Picnic Pizza Station—at the newest Moto location in the city’s Belltown neighborhood. But he has his sights set much higher.
Drone delivery? He’s working on it. Barista bots? Ditto. Star Trek-style food replicators? Well, not yet, but Kindell is hopeful.
He and his partner, Nancy Gambin, sell out of pizza—a lot. Eater Seattle says Moto’s pies “might be the best in all of Seattle,” but they’re not easy to get. Moto just stays too busy, and pre-ordering is a must. A traditionalist in many respects, Kindell works with a sourdough starter (called “Betty”) that’s more than 100 years old. The art and craft of making pizza by hand are important to him. But after he injured his arm, he changed his perspective.
“I thought I’d be a one-man shop forever,” Kindell tells PMQ. “When I realized I can scale a high-quality pizza that matches the best of ’em [with a robot], it was game on.” As he sees it, a robot can do what he does, but faster and more efficiently—at least as far as prepping a pie is concerned. “Whether you like it or not, robotics is a positive certainty in our food future,” Kindell says. “I truly believe we can still attain a superior artisan food product using this new technology.”
Has 2023 seen an explosion of pizza robotics? Not really. But there have been a few interesting—and even surprising—developments, such as DiGiorno, the frozen pizza brand, testing a pizza vending machine at a Walmart in Colorado, and BRIX Holdings, which owns the RedBrick Pizza chain, undertaking a similar initiative with its new Pizza Jukebox concept at a Walmart in Frisco, Texas. Not so surprisingly, Columbus, Ohio-based Donatos Pizza—a longtime tech innovator under founder Jim Grote—also plans to open a “fully autonomous pizzeria” (i.e., a vending machine) in its hometown at some point in the not-so-distant future.
On the independent side, Alessio Lacco and Sofia Arango, owners of Atlanta Pizza Truck, unveiled a pair of Quickza vending machines that could grow into an empire, as PMQ reported in our October 2023 issue. “We’re establishing relationships in Atlanta, and we want to franchise our model by partnering with other pizzerias in the United States and in other countries,” Lacco told PMQ. “We can work with them to create their own recipe for the vending machines, or they can use our recipe.”
Making peace with robots will pay off for visionary pizzeria operators, Kindell believes. “It’s gonna take the outliers and risk-takers to get first to market, with a few flops along the way,” he says. “Those who hold on and get to the finish line win. I hope to be one of them. Being early requires a lot of patience and tenacity to fine-tune these technologies to work to scale—and what a ride!”