Adam Lloyd Cohen built the beta version of a robotic meal-making machine in his garage.
Cohen is your textbook problem solver. He’s always thought that having takeout stations in apartment buildings and condos would appeal to residents looking to grab a quick breakfast en route to work. Or, needing a quick, easy dinner to replace cooking after a long day of work.
So he decided to make something on his own that could fill what he saw as a demand.
That entrepreneurial hustle is evident in the way Cohen has launched his business. Not only did he literally build the ‘takeout station’ in his garage, but he iterated the prototype to fix things as they arose.
For instance: His garage door was replaced with French doors, but the machine was too tall to go through them. A couple of modifications later and the problem was no more. (Henry Ford actually had a similar problem, Cohen says, so he’s in good company).
Cohen then founded Now Cuisine in 2018, a Dallas-based startup meant to develop, own, and operate a network of those takeout stations. The miniaturized, fully-automated robotic kitchens can be distributed practically anywhere to provide healthy, fresh, restaurant-quality meals around the clock.
This week, Cohen launched a beta program, with one of the locations being Venture X Uptown, to begin offering grain bowls to passersby. Over the next two weeks, he expects to successfully conclude beta and begin raising a seed funding round to grow his team.
But Cohen’s startup goes beyond just deploying these meal machines. He hopes to form an entirely new paradigm for the food and beverage industry: “Distributed Dining.”
“The big picture of what we’re trying to do is establish a new way of eating that’s ultra-convenient but doesn’t compromise quality and nutritional value, something even easier than fast food, but much better for you,” he told Dallas Innovates. “We aim to address a fundamental mismatch: people are nearly everywhere, but food offerings (like restaurants) tend to be clustered (like in shopping malls).”
Why Distributed Dining could be the future of food—during COVID, and beyond
As the founder and CEO of Now Cuisine, Cohen hopes to bypass the need to drive and get a meal or have it delivered. He says it’s about “making great food ubiquitous” and actually embedded into environments in which we live, work, and play.
The machine is geared toward the grab-and-go consumer. It provides a healthy, fresh, tasty, and affordable meal, Cohen says, and fills a gap where no food options are readily available.
And Now Cuisine is meant to serve the restaurant industry itself, too. For restaurant partners, the startup hosts a way to easily and affordably serve customers off-premise without any need for food delivery, real estate, additional labor, or advertising.
Given the national stay at home order brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the beta launch is more timely than ever.
Pre-pandemic, the U.S. restaurant industry was approaching $900 billion in annual sales, according to Cohen. With the rising popularity of apps like Postmates and Uber Eats, a major trend was off-premise dining. The virus has only catalyzed that.
According to Cohen, this major push aligns perfectly with his business and technology.
“Our technology was envisioned as a way for restaurants to easily and inexpensively grow their businesses, while giving consumers highly-convenient access to quality food,” Cohen says. “But with the massive decline in people eating in dining rooms due to pandemic-related laws and unease, restaurants have needed to pivot to off-premise, and many have struggled to do so.”
Cohen believes Now Cuisine is the solution to help restaurants hit hard by COVID—the takeout machine is fully unattended and has a large meal capacity.
Not only does that minimize human contact, but for brick-and-mortar locations that can’t survive on takeout and delivery, it is a way to directly serve new customers where they are. And most people, right now, are at home.
“Many restaurants—particularly independents—are facing an unprecedented battle that’s causing many to fail: a real human tragedy for the entrepreneurs who run them and their families,” he says. “Our machines could help restaurants sell meals with no capital investment and with very little expense.”
What’s next for Now Cuisine
Cohen aims to accelerate the development of the takeout machine and platform to assist restaurants in staying afloat. Hopefully, he says, the startup can do it fast enough to make a real difference.
“We’re of course thinking about how to make the ordering and takeout process as germ-free as possible in the next-generation system,” he says. “In our beta program, we take care of ordering using the touchscreen on the beta machine, in order to keep customers safe.”
Now Cuisine is currently self-funded, but Cohen has been in discussions with numerous potential investors eager to hear results from the beta program. He’s aggressively pursuing IP to protect the technology, and has three pending U.S. nonprovisional patent filings and several pending foreign filings.
In the next two to three years, Cohen predicts he will deploy at least 100 takeout stations throughout Dallas and other Texas cities. He plans to be well into R&D to expand food offerings and have secured partnerships with several restaurant chains and independents.
Right now, operations are fueled solely by Cohen and a seven-member Advisory Board that he says has been invaluable. He’d like to create a company culture that delights customers, while at the same time enabling societal benefits.
“Our ‘mission,’ if you will, is to improve health through better nutrition, save people valuable time, enable greater independence for those who can’t easily prepare meals, reduce traffic, pollution, and energy use, and enhance people’s enjoyment of food by exposing them to flavors they’ve never tried,” he says. “We’re gratified that we’re developing a solution to real-world, everyday problems of both the foodservice industry and ordinary people, and that we have the opportunity to have a transformative, positive impact.”
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