[Updated 9/10/18, 4:18 pm. See below.] Spyce plans to open more restaurants along the East Coast featuring its “robotic kitchen” system, thanks to a fresh infusion of $21 million in venture capital.
The Somerville, MA-based startup’s Series A funding round was led by Collaborative Fund and Maveron, according to an announcement Friday. Other investors in the deal include earlier Spyce backer Khosla Ventures and a group of chefs: Thomas Keller, Jerome Bocuse, and Gavin Kaysen. Chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud has also invested in Spyce and serves as its culinary director. To date, the startup has raised $24.8 million in venture capital, according to a statement e-mailed to Xconomy. [Added VC total.—Eds.]
Spyce was founded in 2015 by four MIT mechanical engineering students. They felt like there weren’t enough healthy food options for a college student’s budget, so they developed an automated system that can dispense ingredients into a line of rotating pots and cook them using electromagnetic induction.
Spyce recruited Boulud and chef Sam Benson to help develop the menu and the concept for Spyce’s debut fast casual joint, which opened earlier this year in downtown Boston. Human workers prep the food and help patrons order at touchscreen kiosks, but the bulk of the work is handled by automated systems. (See video below.)
The eatery features a variety of vegetable-heavy dishes inspired by cuisine from places like India, Morocco, Thailand, and Latin America. The dishes start at $7.50, although once you add in toppings, a drink, and tax, they generally cost about the same as meals from Chipotle and other bowl-based fast casual restaurants.
After eating at Spyce’s restaurant around the time it opened in May, my takeaway was that it serves high-quality, tasty food at a relatively affordable price, but the meal wasn’t life-changing. The automated system was the biggest draw. The question is whether Spyce’s restaurants have enough to keep people coming back after the novelty of the robotic kitchen wears off.
We’ll soon find out. Spyce said in the announcement that it will use the cash infusion to open an unspecified number of additional restaurants on the East Coast. In the e-mailed statement, the company declined to say how many restaurants are in the works, and said it doesn’t yet have a timeline for opening them. It also plans to invest in its technology and hiring more employees. [Added company comment.—Eds.]
“We’re excited to open more restaurants and further develop our concept and technology to continue establishing our brand within the food community,” CEO and co-founder Michael Farid said in a prepared statement. (Farid will be speaking at Xconomy’s X·CON conference in November. You can request an invite here.)
Farid’s statement highlights an interesting piece of Spyce’s strategy: the startup is positioning itself as a restaurant business, not a robotics company, as Farid told me in May. Rather than focus just on the robotics technology and, say, license it to more experienced restaurant operators, Spyce is trying to own the whole process. It’s an ambitious approach, and one of the keys to the company’s success will be how well it executes on both the technology development and restaurant management.
“It’s certainly a challenge,” Farid said in a phone interview after the announcement. But the fact that Spyce has technology and culinary experts on its team is also “what makes us unique or special,” he added.
That dual focus is part of what attracted Spyce’s investors, Farid said. He declined to comment on the company’s valuation.
“There’s plenty of restaurants, and plenty of tech companies in the food space,” Farid said. “Our investors are excited … we do both things.” [Added Farid comments.—Eds.]
[In the top photo, Spyce executive chef Sam Benson (center) grabs a finished bowl, while garde manger Autumn Lopez (right) garnishes another dish. Garde manger Kyron Smith (left) waits for the next dish. Photo by Jeff Engel.]