Cell-based foodstuff produced in sterilized labs, taking microbes and growing them in vats to make plant-based proteins via precision fermentation, ozonated water, electric kitchens, 3-D food printers – the future of food is here and there’s no fighting it. Next up in 2022 – Stellar Pizza will roll out their robotics-powered mobile pizza restaurant.
It’s the brainchild of South Bay native and former SpaceX Engineer Benson Tsai. The team, which also includes Ted Cizma, former Executive Chef and Director of Culinary Services at SpaceX, and pizza consultant Noel Brohner have created a system that transforms raw pizza dough and toppings into a fully baked pizza in under five minutes, with the maximum capability to produce a pizza every 45 seconds or about 80 in one hour.
The robotic pizza-making process starts with a freshly prepared ball of raw pizza dough, which gets pressed and shaped into a round pizza crust. Then house-made sauce, followed by Grande East Coast Mozzarella and toppings are added. Finally, the raw pizza is inserted into one of four high-temperature custom-designed ovens and comes out minutes later on a conveyor belt. The only hands needed are those of the truck driver.
So what impact will this cutting-edge technology-driven culinary experience have on the future of jobs?
“Ok, it is eliminating jobs,” Tsai tells L.A. Weekly at his Hawthorne headquarters. “But I think the bigger impact is more affordable food for everyone. If we can lower the cost of living, that’s much more important to me than the one or two jobs we might be replacing. For me, it’s all about getting food into people’s hands. You read about the labor shortage and people who don’t want to be chopping vegetables all day for eight hours for little pay. If you look at our grocery stores, every single item is made with a robot in some capacity. This is how we keep the cost of food low and it’s the future of the restaurant business. Food costs are just going to continue going up.”
The pies, which will roll out in Spring 2022, include pepperoni (which is also sliced by the robot), supreme pizza and a build your own option is also available, with toppings like onions, bacon, chicken, green peppers and olives. A 12-inch cheese pizza will run you $7, $8 for pepperoni. Chef Cizma continues to fine-tune pizza crusts and toppings while the core engineering team of 23 fellow previous SpaceX employees lend their rocket science experience to streamline the hands-free process used in designing each of the three $300,000 trucks.
“One of the reasons I started this company was because of an incident that happened when I ordered something through DoorDash,” says Tsai, son of Taiwanese immigrants.
“A 10-year-old kid handed me my food and I saw his mom waiting in the car. The whole food system is broken and I’m going to use my experience and abilities to help solve the problems in today’s society. Mars is great, but I want to solve the problems closer to home.”
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