The market, karma, or perhaps simply the cold hand of reality has dealt a blow to Silicon Valley’s robot cafe and pizzeria dreams.
In less than a day, two businesses seemingly designed to automate humans out of service jobs suddenly looked a whole lot less ready to change the world. Cafe X, the operator of “robotic coffee bars” in San Francisco and San Jose, has shuttered three locations and laid off an unspecified number of workers, Axios reported on Tuesday. And Zume, which sells pizzas made with help from robots, is laying off as many as 400 employees, or 80% of its staff, according to a Business Insider story published on Monday. A third company, Creator—which pops hamburgers out of a sleek, Rube Goldberg-esque machine—was apparently left “totally screwed” recently as it waited for SoftBank to cut it a check, according to another Axios report on Monday.
The reports do not necessarily spell out total doom for the robotic restaurant. As Crunchbase News points out, Zume reportedly sought new funding at a valuation as high as $4 billion as recently as this past November. That’s a lot of money for a company with a suddenly expansive list of (presumably disgruntled) alumni. Cafe X (which has set its sights on airports), on the other hand, has only raised $15 million in venture capital to date and is looking for more cash, according to Axios. Perhaps that money would be better spent on living wages for human baristas, given how thoroughly mechanized food production already is?