Club Corner, Print Edition, Start Ups

Startup Corner: Robots Help Prepare Food in Busy Restaurants

Anthony Tayoun, Contributor

This month, Anthony Tayoun (MBA ’19) introduces us to Alfred, a robotic sous-chef.

  1. What is the problem that you are trying to solve?
    • We are solving the labor crisis that’s currently faced by the food industry. Today, 75% of restaurants are understaffed, and turnover is 146% for certain positions. The food industry’s labor gap was traditionally filled through teenage workers; however, for the last two decades, teenagers have left the economy. With the rise of gig-economy jobs such as with Uber and Lyft, the restaurant labor pool continues to shrink. The result: 59% of restaurateurs rate staff hiring and retention as their top challenge.
  2. What is your solution?
    • Our solution is using automation to fill this labor gap. We built Alfred, a robotic arm that can use utensils to assemble food. The robotic arm is made entirely of off-the-shelf hardware, and we built the software that lets the arm use spoons, ladles, tongs, and dishers to make salads, bowls, and ice cream. Alfred is a plug-and-play solution that can operate in existing restaurants such as Chipotle or Sweetgreen, change utensils on the fly, and deliver faster, cleaner, and more consistent service.
  3. What was the inspiration behind your company/idea?
    • Robot arms seemed like the perfectly suited tool to replicate the repetitive but somewhat flexible motion needed today to assemble a variety of meals such as salads, bowls, and many more fast foods. These are also tasks that most people dislike performing, resulting in the massive labor gap existing today. Moreover, people shifted their eating behavior, resulting in more than 50% of meals being prepared outside of the home, drastically increasing demand. After several discussions with both restaurant owners and patrons, we cemented our realization that an automation solution is desperately needed to sustain the rapid growth that the food industry is facing.
  4. Who is the team behind your startup?
    • The team behind this company has graduates from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and other top schools in the region. Our team’s experience includes years of engineering experience at The Draper Laboratory and management consulting at BCG, along with a team of advisors having robotics experts and successful leaders from the food industry.
  5. How did you get started?
    • The idea behind the software came out of a breakthrough research effort by a team of collaborators from Draper Laboratory, MIT, and Harvard. After interviewing several stakeholders from the food industry, we thought that automation seems like the needed solution to address the industry’s top issues. Our first experiment was scooping ice cream, and then assembling a salad. Now we want to take Alfred out of the lab and into a real store.
  6. What’s next?
    • We have a pilot install over the summer at a customer’s location in New York City, assembling salads for patrons. After this pilot is concluded, we will start rolling out the product in additional stores. We will also release a product capable of scooping ice cream. In parallel, we will be working on teaching Alfred additional skills, such as slicing, dicing, or even operating the fryer or grill.

For a video of Alfred in action, visit dexai.com/media.


Anthony Tayoun (MBA ’19) is the co-founder of Dexai Robotics, a startup that automates activities in commercial kitchens using flexible robot arms. Prior to Dexai, Anthony worked as a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, focusing on growth strategies. Anthony is an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School and holds a B.E. in Mechanical Engineering and a B.S. in Mathematics from the American University of Beirut. Outside of work, Anthony enjoys chasing soccer balls and exploring sunken sea treasures.

May 9, 2019

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