Pizzeria operators from across the country got a glimpse into the future of the industry as the Pizza Tomorrow Summit kicked off in earnest today, Wednesday, November 8, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
An unusual late-season hurricane slammed—but failed to slow down—last year’s inaugural Pizza Tomorrow Summit. For the 2023 event, which is co-located with the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show, the weather forecast looks sublime: no hurricanes, no rain, just sunshine and pizza aplenty.
Here are a few scenes from the showroom floor that sum up what the PMQ team is experiencing on Day 1 of the show. We’ll be back at it again tomorrow, so keep looking out for coverage.
Plato, the Waiter’s Robot
At a show booth that was positioned close to the exhibit hall’s entrance, many attendees were greeted by Plato, the waiter’s assistant robot from United Robotics Group (URG).
The machine was a show-stopper, to be sure. It has the ability to deliver food and beverages from the kitchen via voice or tablet command. Crowds gathered around, peppering the patient URG team with questions: Who is using Plato right now? What do they use it for? Will it replace employees, or simply serve as their assistant?
Many believe Plato fills a need in the pizza restaurant space. URG’s current clients include restaurants in small towns that have trouble finding workers. One coffee shop URG reps described has two employees who are there all the time—one up front taking orders and making coffee, and somebody in the back-of-house fulfilling food orders. Plato has been a superstar at restaurants like that, as it can seamlessly increase throughput without the need to add a new employee.
It’s interesting to note that no pizzerias are currently using Plato, but it’s only a matter of time. The URG team says it’s selling more Platos by the day. They retail for about $17,500, but the company offers a lease option.
Additionally, unless the PMQ team missed something, Plato was the only true robot on the floor. Is there a reason why robots haven’t yet penetrated the pizza space more seamlessly? Or are most operators more comfortable with back-of-house pizza-making robots instead?
The Almost-Shark Tank Cinderella
For every company that’s been launched on Shark Tank, there must be dozens more that almost made it but never got to go in front of the “sharks” and pitch their product. Pie-Pod, a company founded by a former ER doctor, takes that story a step further.
A Pie-Pod rep says the company was in touch with Shark Tank producers about getting on the show. But the producers stopped calling back. Months later, an episode aired with a product that looked an awful lot like Pie-Pod’s. Shark Mark Cuban went in on the product.
So what is the product, exactly? Pie-Pod creates “smart” storage containers for individual slices of pizza. It also contains a microwave-safe “crisper pan” that can achieve temperatures of 450° in the microwave oven to give a slice of leftover pizza the warm-up it deserves.
The US Pizza Team Achieves the Unthinkable
OK, this one is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the U.S. Pizza Team, led by PMQ’s Brian Hernandez, has been hard at work all day. An impressive panel of judges watched as the country’s top pizza makers competed for culinary honors in the USPT’s prestigious Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup.
Most impressive of all has been the team’s extraordinary ability to host a pizza competition where everything runs smoothly. The competition hasn’t just been running on time—it was ahead of time.
Winners will be named today, and prizes will be handed out. The grand prize is a trip to compete at the World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy, next spring. Check out PMQ’s social channels for more on the event. We will also be posting on the site as winners and awards are announced over the next 24 hours or so.
Although we saw many more innovations—from plant-based everything to pizza ovens larger than your house or smaller than your backpack—that’s a taste (so to speak) of what happened on the floor today at the second annual Pizza Tomorrow Summit. Stay tuned for more as the show continues tomorrow, November 9, starting at 9 a.m. ET!