Chef B, an autonomous food robot from vendor Blendid, started taking orders last November for smoothies that it then crafts in the Charlie Brown’s Café on the campus of Sonoma State University in California. Debuting on Nov. 15th in a soft opening, Chef B will have its formal grand launch on Jan. 22nd when it will also unveil its full powers, which will include producing customized smoothies in addition to its standard blends.
Chef B complements the rest of the Charlie Brown’s menu, which includes sandwiches, salads, soup and various beverages.
“We were looking for a healthy option to provide to our community as well as something that is innovative, efficient and convenient, and Blendid was a great fit for that,” says Casey Kelly, marketing manager for Entrepreneurial Activities at Sonoma State. The café did offer smoothies before, but the activity was excessively labor-intensive, hence the search for a more efficient alternative.
Charlie Brown’s is a retail outlet that is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (5 p.m. on Fridays) during the week and closed on weekends. Chef B operates over those same hours.
The soft launch that will take the robot into January was done to “test the equipment to make sure everything was running smoothly and the technology is working,” Kelly offers.
The unit takes both mobile orders and orders from an adjacent kiosk, processes the payment, then swiftly selects and measures the fresh fruit and vegetable ingredients (no water or ice is added), blends, pours and serves up each custom-made blend in about three minutes. While the soft launch includes offering all eight standard smoothie blends, customization options have been limited. However, once the full launch takes place, customers will have freedom to switch out ingredients and customize their choices, Kelly says.
Brand ambassadors stand by to answer customer questions and do any ingredient restocking that’s needed.
Among the standard blends now available are options like The Classic (strawberry, banana, apple juice, coconut water, flax), Berry Ultraviolet (blueberry, banana, kefir, apple juice) and Green Warrior (kale, banana, kefir, apple juice, chia). Customization options will include ingredients like coconut water, chia seeds and flax seeds.
Traffic has slowly been building—Kelly estimates a few hundred Blends a week—and “once we actually market it, we’ll get a lot more traffic,” she asserts. “We know the community is excited, they love the innovation, especially as we’re not that far from Silicon Valley, which is why we thought it would be a shame not to have such innovation on our campus and be a part of the conversation and what people expect.”
Even before the full launch, the robot has become a minor campus sensation and a regular on student social media posts. “People are in awe as they watch the robot pouring the smoothie into the cup because they think it’s going to miss but it always makes it,” Kelly laughs.
Blendid’s first location opened at the University of San Francisco last March and this new kiosk at Sonoma State is the second, as well as the first at a public university. More launches are planned for 2020.