Bodega startup brings corner store concept into home, workplace

Ana Isabel Diaz/Staff

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Bodegas are no longer just the small community corner store — the name now also refers to an app-controlled community vending machine serving the San Francisco Bay Area.

Bodegas are cabinet stores, stocked with everyday essentials that range from Clorox wipes to kettle chips and computer chargers. Users install an app to gain access to the Bodega and then are automatically charged for their purchases through Bodega’s computer vision system.

A few Bodegas are now located in fraternities and sororities around campus.

Kappa Alpha Theta is one of multiple campus Greek houses that currently has Bodega installed, according to house member Jeana Lindsley.

Lindsley cited the convenience of having the food, school supplies and toiletries they requested all in one place.

“Definitely not everyone uses it, but people do use it pretty regularly,” Lindsley said. “The only major downside is if you’re bad at controlling temptation.”

Bodega, however, has been a controversial concept since its debut in September.

In an article released by Fast Company, the co-founders of Bodega — former Google employees Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan — discussed how Bodega could eventually replace centralized shopping locations. The article also discussed the company’s appropriation of the term “bodega” for its project, which could potentially put traditional bodega stores out of business.

The company declined to comment as of press time.

In a statement following Bodega’s launch, McDonald stated that Bodega’s goal was not to be a competitor of traditional bodega stores.

“When we first came up with the idea to call the company Bodega we recognized that there was a risk of it being interpreted as misappropriation,” McDonald said in his statement. “We did some homework—speaking to New Yorkers, branding people, and even running some survey work asking about the name and any potential offense it might cause. But it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people.”

As of Wednesday, Bodegas have also been placed in three North Berkeley Properties buildings, according to facilities manager Ethan Cheng. Cheng said the installations were a part of Bodega’s new round of beta testing, as the company explores different markets in the East Bay.

UC Berkeley city and regional planning and urban design Professor Emerita Elizabeth Deakin compared Bodegas to automats, machines outdated by nearly 100 years. Automats, also a type of automated convenience store, are fundamentally the same as the Bodega vending machines, Deakin said in an email, in that they try to cut back on labor such as waiters and counter staff.

“Workers who are seen as ‘costly’ and ‘sometimes troublesome’ in return for an perhaps less costly, and most likely more profitable product delivered at the machine – if customers are willing to use it,” Deakin said in her email.

Contact Alicia Kim at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @aliciackim.