Backing the round are existing investors Project A Ventures, Atlantic Food Labs, UStart, K Fund and JME Ventures, which are joined by RTP Global. It adds to €7 million raised last May and will be used by the Berlin-based company to further expand its roll-out of cloud kitchens across Europe.
Launched in spring 2016, Keatz now operates 10 cloud kitchens across Europe, having expanded beyond Berlin to Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona and Munich. The startup’s network of satellite kitchens is designed to negate the high front-of-house costs found in conventional restaurants, while also selling takeout food that is better suited to delivery.
“We believe the last unsolved part in food delivery is the preparation of food itself,” Keatz co-founder Paul Gebhardt tells TechCrunch. “Delivery food today is often compromised and sold by companies focusing on hospitality and not delivery food. Classic brick and mortar restaurants simply have a different business model, namely hospitality, which is all about the experience and location and the food is meant to be eaten immediately. Nobody at Nandos or Byron Burger designed the food keeping in mind that the food might travel on a Deliveroo bike for another 15 minutes, mostly upside down in a delivery bag.”
Similar to other cloud kitchen startups, such as France’s Taster, Gebhardt says Keatz is changing this by focusing exclusively on food “made for delivery,” including designing dishes that can withstand a minimum 15-minute journey. The startup has a portfolio of eight delivery-only food brands, which are all prepared in the same shared kitchens.
“Our kitchens are usually between 100-200 square metres big and serve a delivery radius of 1-2 kilometres and we sell exclusively on existing delivery platforms, such as Deliveroo, UberEats, Glovo, JustEat, Delivery Hero and TakeAway. Food arrives warm in nice sustainable packaging,” he says.
Meanwhile, although Gebhardt thinks the future of takeout food will ultimately be drones delivering robot-cooked meals, he says autonomous kitchens are much more in reach than autonomous food delivery and already forms a large part of Keatz’s vision to build “highly automated kitchens.”
“It is much easier for us to iteratively automate our kitchens compared to drone-delivery, which is a fairly binary technological transition,” he explains. “Our existing cloud kitchens today are already much more automated than traditional kitchens, from Wi-Fi-connected convection ovens to a software-supported food assembly process. At the end of the day, high-quality food preparation is an on-demand manufacturing problem: a customer orders a burrito on UberEats and expects a warm meal 20 minutes later. This is quite a technological challenge we are trying to solve.”
To that end, Keatz’s cloud kitchens can be thought of as akin to a “factory operator.” Rather than developing autonomous kitchen hardware of its own, Gebhardt says the company is partnering with kitchen equipment and automation companies in a similar way to BMW partnering with companies to build its car manufacturing plants.
“Despite our ambition to automate the kitchen, we are also very keen on being a great employer,” he adds, citing above-market pay and comprehensive training opportunities. Today, Keatz employs around 200 people across its 10 kitchens in Europe.