One day soon, a robot will make you a salad

Hyphen grabbed a quick mention in my newsletter (it’s good, you should subscribe) when it came out of stealth, back in August. Automated food prep is going to be a big thing, going forward. Many predicted as much in the early days of the pandemic, when stay at home orders and fears around COVID transmission left many restaurant owners wondering how much of the process they might eventually be able to automate.

I suspect many thought that would be something of a temporary issue. Two years into the pandemic, it’s probably safe to say our expectations for “temporary” have shifted some what. But even as spikes have died down in certain areas, finding staff for often low-paying food service work continues to be an issue.

For this reason, we’ve seen a lot of investment interest around companies promising to help automate industrial kitchens. That side of the equation is starting to catch up to the level of excitement that’s surrounded robotic food delivery for several years now. We’re going to see special attention paid to certain food types at the beginning, due to the relative ease with which they can be automated. Pizza has been an obvious first choice for a while, due to its simplicity and the fact that, well, most people like pizza.

Salads and bowls are a good candidate, too. They’re self-contained and have been growing in popularity as a quick lunch option for workers who find themselves with less and less time to break away from their computer screens.

Hyphen offers Makeline, a modular solution to automate the bowl production process through a kind of conveyer belt process that happens under the counter. That latter detail is an interesting one, as many of these companies position automation as outward facing. Depending on how you look at it, you may consider a robot making your lunch a cool — or, at the very least, novel — idea. But Hyphen’s system relies on putting a human out front — in part to have a face for customer interactions.

This week, the San Jose-based firm announced a $24 million Series A. The round, led by Tiger Global, brings its total funding to $34.4 million. This latest round will be used for the sorts of things you’d expect robotics funding to be used for, including additional R&D, building out a production facility and expanding into more markets. The company anticipates rolling out the Makeline system to five markets in the next two years, though is not yet offering specifics.