Tomlin says the technology has undergone several iterations and modifications over nearly 10 years of existence, to the point that it’s now become the "Mercedes Benz built by the French.” The kiosk boasts a 99 percent uptime; for frame of reference, Tomlin says McDonald’s frozen drink machine has an 85 percent uptime.
The automated pizza oven only requires 65 to 80 square feet of space and can start operating within four to six hours. Also, kiosks come with web-enabled technology that allows licensees to track real-time sales data, inventory, and mechanical troubleshooting. Online ordering will soon be available through the PizzaForno app, and food delivery is being tested in Toronto through Uber Eats.
The company leverages a hub-and-spoke model, in which commissaries serve as a hub and are surrounded by a handful of kiosks, or spokes. In most cases, a minimum of five pizza ovens are necessary per commissary to see real success. In Toronto, one hub services 15 machines, but Tomlin says it is possible for one commissary to handle 20 to 25 units.
The layout of each commissary varies. For instance, one operator in Canada services one machine and uses a 400-square-foot space, while another licensee uses an existing restaurant after hours. PizzaForno’s Michigan partner bought a building that previously housed an independent burger restaurant and converted it to a commissary.
Kiosks are typically in high-traffic areas, such as hospitals and college campuses. On average, about 35 pizzas are ordered per day, meaning ovens must be refilled about every other day.
The machines, which take about 20 hours to build, are assembled in two places—the original location in France and another just outside of Toronto. Each facility has the capacity to build 5,000 units per year.
“It's really an assembly of components job more than a hard manufacturing job, which makes it highly scalable,” Tomlin says. “And if we have to put together an assembly factory in the U.S. to meet our demand, Vincent would certainly find the party to do that.”
One of PizzaForno’s first clients was Aramark, which signed an exclusive multi-year deal in Canada. The company also placed a kiosk inside Ripley’s Aquarium, which eliminated its cafeteria in favor of the automated pizza oven.
Although the company hasn’t done much marketing to secure licensees, it receives about 200 inquiries per week through social media and press releases.
“We look for a combination of entrepreneurial spirit and obviously the right amount of capital to successfully launch a market," Tomlin says. "The first four master licensees for the U.S. are a varied group of venture-capital-backed people with some restaurant experience. A lot of them have some foodservice experience in the past, but not necessarily a requirement.”
Expansion plans for fully automated kiosks have accelerated as of late. Earlier this year, fast casual 800 Degrees Pizza announced a partnership with Piestro to produce 3,600 kiosks in the next five years. Brick-and-mortar restaurants and ghost kitchens will double as commissaries for the kiosks, otherwise known as 800 Degrees Go kitchens. Piestro’s pizza ovens also cook items in three minutes, but the toppings are placed on the pizza inside the machine as opposed to being pre-made.
Outside of pizza, Creating Culinary Communities (C3), a food-tech platform that leverages retail, hotel, and kitchen spaces with a host of digital brands, is fueling the growth of Nommi, a robotic kiosk that produced grain, noodle, and lettuce bowls. The partnership calls for 1,000 kiosks.
Tomlin says it’s a sign that robotics is not just a passing trend of the pandemic.
“Our business was accelerated by COVID because we need these low-touch, no-touch food solutions,” he says. “The idea of a low-touch, no-touch food solution didn’t even exist prior to COVID. And then suddenly the labor shortage is now further accelerating our business plan. That is where I think the future of food is—robotics. Whether it's pizza or coffee or burgers."