Bbox Café brings coffee to Downtown Berkeley with help of artificially intelligent robots

A restaurant logo and sign on the wall.
Ireland Wagner/Staff

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It’s 11:30 a.m. and the brand ambassadors for Bbox Café stand behind their portable counter space, advising customers on how to order drinks and pastries with the help of two engineered robots: Bev and Jarvis.

Bbox opened its doors in January in the Berkeley Way West building at 2121 Berkeley Way, as first reported by Berkeleyside. Situated in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Bbox serves locally-sourced drinks from Highwire Coffee Roasters and pastries from Semifreddi’s Bakery — all of which are carefully sampled before being selected as Bbox’s choice of “premium local baker and roaster.”

The name of Bbox’s ordering robot Jarvis alludes to Tony Stark’s artificial intelligence assistant from “Iron Man,” while Bev is simply short for “beverages,” said Bbox CEO Greg Becker. Bev can be seen through a clear glass panel, multi-tasking to prepare one or more drinks at a time and working together with Jarvis to “make and service customers orders,” Becker said.

“Bev, our beverage robot, starts each day by grinding fresh high-wire beans and brewing hot pots of coffee and then makes customers orders as they come in throughout the day,” Becker said. “Everything from almond milk lattes to iced Americanos and delicious orange juice.”

According to Becker, Bbox’s mission is to take the monetary gains from technology rather than manpower to produce high-quality drinks and snacks that are more accessible and affordable.

While Bbox is in its “beta” phase of development, the café has brand ambassadors to guide customers and engineers monitoring the system and performing “continued featured development,” Becker said. The hope is to eventually set up the space to be open 24/7 and have it fully automated without the help of people altogether. Bbox is currently open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays until the café fully automates.

“(It’s) pretty convenient for me as a student — you can order off of an app,” said campus senior David Martinez. “Being able to order coffee whenever you want through the day is very convenient for students.”

Yali’s Cafe owner Ayal Amzel said that Bbox was “very brave” to bring such a new business concept to life. He predicted that automation, especially for the behind-the-scenes workings of shops, will become more and more routine.

Becker said a lot of the ideas for Bbox came from his and co-founder Scott Lessans’ restaurant backgrounds. Their families own Roti Modern Mediterranean, a Chicago-based restaurant chain. The two men work together to run Bbox, with Becker managing the business portion while Lessans handles the engineering.

“Scott and I grew up in Baltimore together. We always talked about starting a company,” Becker said. “Now we’re lucky to combine our complementary skill sets to build something transformative.”

Sarah Chung covers business and economy. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sarahchungdc.