Newport Beach-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG) is leveraging technology and artificial intelligence for a new kind of kitchen assistant.
Chipotle has partnered with Pasadena-based Miso Robotics to create an autonomous kitchen assistant, nicknamed Chippy, to cook and season the restaurant’s tortilla chips.
Chippy has been trained to replicate the exact recipe and technique employees currently use behind the counter, according to Miso Robotics.
The $44 billion-valued restaurant’s operator’s recipe for chips includes a mix of corn masa flour, water, sunflower oil, salt, and fresh lime juice.
“Our goal is to drive efficiencies through collaborative robotics that will enable Chipotle’s crew members to focus on other tasks in the restaurant,” Chipotle Chief Technology Officer Curt Garner said in a statement.
Chipotle counts about 97,660 employees companywide, and like all restaurant operators these days is looking for ways to reduce labor costs amid a challenging market for finding employees.
Labor costs for the fourth quarter were 26.4%, up 1% from year-ago levels as a result of higher wages for employees, according to company officials.
Various lines of robots from Miso start around $30,000, according to prior reports.
“This partnership will allow us to move into new territory to help improve back-of-house functions and assist team members with their day-to-day responsibilities,” Miso CEO Mike Bell said of the Chipotle partnership.
Chippy is being tested at the Chipotle Cultivate Center, the restaurant operator’s roughly 20,000-square-foot innovation hub at UCI Research Park in Irvine, a few miles from the company’s headquarters at Newport Center.
The robot is expected to be rolled out to a Chipotle restaurant in Southern California later this year, according to the company.
Chipotle said it is using its “stage-gate process to listen, test and learn from crew and guest feedback before deciding on a national implementation strategy.”
Other recent innovations coming out of the chain include radio-frequency identification technology for its tracking and inventory systems, which are being tried out at its Chicago distribution center and restaurants in that city, the company said last week.
Miso counts other ties to Orange County.
Its advisory board includes Charless C. Fowlkes, a UCI associate professor of computer science.
The company’s prior investors have included Acacia Research Corp., long based in Newport Beach and later Irvine, but now with its headquarters in New York.
In February, Miso opened a Series E funding round with a target of $40 million.
Other creations of the company include Flippy, its original robotic kitchen aid for fried products like hamburgers, which gained notoriety via use at Ohio-based White Castle.
After recently releasing its $3,000 per month, next-generation model of the automated frying station known as Flippy 2, the company is set to announce more foodservice models this year.