In the back kitchen of Mountain View’s newest pizzeria, Marta works tirelessly, spreading marinara sauce on uncooked pies. She doesn’t complain, takes no breaks, and has never needed a sick day. She works for free.
Marta is one of two robots working at Zume Pizza, a secretive food delivery startup trying to make a more profitable pizza through machines. It’s also created special delivery trucks that will finish cooking pizzas during the journey to hungry customers if approved by the Santa Clara County, Calif., Department of Environmental Health.
Right now Zume is only feeding people in Mountain View, California, but it has ambitions to dominate the $9.7 billion pizza delivery industry.
“We are going to be the Amazon of food,” said Zume’s co-founder and executive chairman, Alex Garden. Garden, 41, is the former president of Zynga Studios. Before that, he was a general manager of Microsoft’s Xbox Live. Garden launched Zume in stealth mode last June, when he began quietly recruiting engineers under a pseudonym and building his patented trucks in an unmarked Mountain View garage. In September, he brought on Julia Collins, a 37-year-old restaurant veteran. She became chief executive officer and a co-founder. Collins was previously the vice president and CEO of Harlem Jazz Enterprises, the holding company for Minton’s, a historic Harlem eatery.
In October, Zume began working closely with Swiss robot maker, ABB, and a global crew of mechanical, electrical and software engineers. In April, the startup sold its first cyborg-constructed pie to an unsuspecting customer in Mountain View.
People familiar with Zume’s fundraising discussions said that Google Ventures as well as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers are considering Series A bids. In May, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang was seen touring the pizzeria with his crew of investors from AME Cloud Ventures. Garden said he didn’t want to talk about fundraising, “But I can tell you the venture community is validating our idea.”
Two minutes from Google’s main campus, Zume’s headquarters sits in an unmarked concrete building that looks like an auto repair shop. The 8,000 square foot interior is divided into a large kitchen, where the robots are; and an office space, where 12 engineers, designers and product managers work. The building also has a machine and fabrication workshop.
Inside Zume’s kitchen, protective glass boxes separate the robots from humans. Marta hangs from the ceiling of her cage like a giant spider, her spindly robot arms converging, ladle-like, to douse a pie with sauce in under two seconds. “We created her to spread your sauce perfectly, but not too perfectly, so the pizza still looks like an artisan product,” Garden said.
Fully sauced, the pie travels on a conveyer belt to human employees who add cheese and toppings. The decorated pies are then scooped off the belt by a 5-foot tall grey automaton, Bruno, who places each in an 850-degree oven. For now, the pizzas are fully cooked and delivered to customers in branded Fiats painted with slogans, including: “You want a piece of this?” and “Not part of the sharing economy.”
In August, Zume wants to start cooking its pizzas in the startup’s patented delivery trucks. Each truck has 56 ovens that can be turned on and off remotely. Garden can barely contain his excitement for what comes next: “The robots will load all these individual ovens with different menu items. Then the truck will circle the neighborhood. At precisely 3 minutes and 15 seconds before arriving at the customer’s location, the cloud commands the oven to turn on and–” Garden made the symbol of a large explosion emanating from his brain– “BOOM, the customer gets a fresh, out-the-oven pizza delivered to their door.”