Do robots dream of electric quinoa bowls?
The answer may be “yes,” with the soft opening of Eatsa — a high-tech quick-service restaurant serving affordable vegetarian dishes without a single waiter or cashier — near campus last week.
Located at 2334 Telegraph Ave. where Crepes A-Go-Go used to be before closing earlier this year, the automated store is outfitted with several iPads where customers can place their orders using only credit or debit cards. Within a few minutes, CEO and co-founder Tim Young said, meals appear in one of the electronic “cubbies” at the back of the store, glowing with LCD screens.
Young said that while the company has three other stores in California, he has always thought about bringing Eatsa to Berkeley. The quickly prepared meals, which can be ordered through a mobile app as well, will appeal directly to busy students on their way to class, Young said.
“College student will respond really well to what Eatsa is … because it is good for you, unprocessed and at an accessible price-point,” Young said, who is a UC Berkeley graduate and former ad salesperson at The Daily Californian. “That’s going to really resonate with students in general, and Berkeley students especially.”
Ferissa Lagasca said she first decided to try Eatsa because of its unique model and close proximity to her job at Complete Entertainment Exchange.
“I was so against quinoa, because the first time I had it, it was super dry and cold,” Lagasca said while ordering at one of the store’s five iPad stations. “When I tried it over here, I was kind of expecting the same thing, but it was actually pretty good.”
While there are so-called “concierges” working the storefront to assist customers, the general lack of human interaction and seating at the store can be jarring for some. Young said he believes the high-tech business model actually provides a better customer experience overall, because people can order at their leisure and lines are heavily reduced.
But for campus senior Madison Kirkwood, who stopped by Thursday to check out the new store, the flashy technology of Eatsa may not cater to all customers in the city.
“I love Berkeley for the community, and I think that the shops and the restaurants add to that,” Kirkwood said. “So to take away the people — it’s going to be interesting, and I’m intrigued to see how it’s going to fair.”
Eatsa’s restaurants have been largely successful at other locations, with the first restaurant opening in San Francisco just last year. And while there are no robots operating behind the high-tech cubbies, the modern store is already attracting would-be customers.
“Just for the sake of having the opportunity to eat without a person giving me food, oh my god, that’s so futuristic,” said UC Berkeley senior Aleksandr Faynleyb, who perused the menu items on an iPad with Kirkwood. “I’d love to experience it, at least experience it (once).”
The Berkeley Eatsa location will be hosting its grand opening Tuesday.