Chipotle founder and ex-CEO Steve Ells is reportedly planning to launch a robot-powered fast food startup, named Kernel.
The New York Post reported that Ells has been pitching the business idea to investors since at least last year.
The new plant-based startup aims to operate restaurants with as few as three employees.
It intends to revolutionise technology, labour, real estate and menu, and implement automation with a human touch, according to draft investor materials accessed by the publication.
The pitch deck, including mock-ups, provided a sneak peek into how the restaurants will be operated by the chain. The operations will likely feature three employee workstations, computer screens, and robotic arms.
The restaurants will employ slots and chutes to move food through an assembly line.
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Kernel representative Sarah Rosenberg confirmed to The Post that the new startup is a tech-enabled fast-food concept that utilises software and robotics.
Rosenberg said: “Yes, a fundamentally lighter labour model is core to the operation. Kernel’s operational model requires materially fewer employees to the status quo business model.”
Kernel will have its base in New York and its initial production hub on 14th Street in Manhattan.
The first store of the chain is expected to be launched later this year. Potential locations in Lower Manhattan are being discussed to open the first store.
Ells will self-fund the company before a planned fundraising round. The startup is expected to attract between $30m and $50m in the initial round, the publication said, citing an unidentified source.
The fast food chain aims to operate its stores with sizes as small as 800ft².
Rosenberg added: “Kernel intends to open doors with a material smaller footprint than fast food and fast casual incumbents.”
The automated kitchens will provide cuisines, ranging from acai bowls, wraps and salads to hamburgers, pasta, and pizza.
Steve Ells resigned as Chipotle’s CEO in 2017 and relinquished his role as chairman of the board in 2020.