When I met Julia Collins at the International Pizza Expo, it was like an explosion. When we met on the tradeshow floor, which is a space for particles to constantly collide, she introduced herself as the founder of the world’s first robotic pizzeria. I was all ears. She described a futuristic world where pizza is available on-demand and comes out of the oven moments before it arrives on your doorstep. Then she told me Zume Pizza was already operational in Mountain View, CA and that I should come out and take a look. Never one to miss an exciting new pizzeria format, I hopped on a plane and headed west to check it out.
Hindsight being what it is, I really wish I had taken more pictures. The problem is we’re so programmed to photograph things that look unique and interesting, not boring looking office buildings. Because that’s exactly where Zume is located. And that’s exactly what makes Zume so interesting. It isn’t a pizzeria at all. In fact, it completely turns the concept of a traditional pizzeria on its head.
Most pizzerias bake their products in a pizzeria where you can walk in, dine in, take out, or request delivery. You order a pizza, they bake it, then they bring it to you. That model has been around since the 1960s but we’re sitting here in 2016 with life just passing us by… a life where robots can do anything. Zume ignores the concept of a central pizzeria where you walk in and place an order. Instead, the plan is to coordinate a series of commissaries constantly prepping and par-baking pizzas. Those pies get loaded into trucks armed with dozens of custom-built pizza ovens.
Customers place their orders through an app, which shows inventory on nearby trucks. The delivery vehicles head to their destination with pizzas already loaded into their own ovens, which turn on at exactly the right moment so the vehicle arrives precisely when the pizzas are fully baked. It’s quite an ambitious plan, but from what I saw in Mountain View it’s not really a matter of if this is going to work, but when it’s going to happen.
As much as I wish I would have thought to take photos of the outside of Zume’s office building, I really wish I would have taken more of the pizza prep zone. I kept my photography to a minimum out of respect for Zume’s ongoing development (and the NDA I signed). The process currently has a couple humans on the make line, but the goal is to completely mechanize the process. The current robots, Marta and Bruno, are respectively responsible for saucing and loading each pizza into the oven. Here’s a video of Marta in action!
Then there’s the box. Zume has been calling them Pizza Pods since they’re clearly not the average pizza container. The base is designed to perfectly fit a pizza (one size only) and even has divots for in-box slicing, air circulation, and great entrapment. The lid is designed to help circulate air to keep the pizza dry while maintaining high temperature. Zume is using compressed sugarcane fiber but has been experimenting with other natural materials that will do the same job with natural ingredients while keeping costs low.
As fun as all the robots might be, the really impressive aspect of Zume is their pizza. It’s seriously delicious. This is a serious pizza with slow, naturally fermented dough and natural ingredients. I was totally impressed that a company so focused on mechanizing a very human process was able to put out such a high quality product.
It definitely saddens me that a big part of the idea is to remove humans from this process, but you have to keep in mind that this isn’t going to replace every mom-and-pop pizzeria. I see Zume as an option on college campuses and other dense communities as a much tastier and healthier alternative to the mega chains. On a quality level, Zume is just miles beyond the national chains. It’s bridging the gap between quality sit-down restaurants and super low-end desperation pizza.
Zume currently has one location in Mountain View, CA and is in the process of launching the oven-loaded delivery truck. I think we’ll see more Zume bases along the west coast as they build their territory and develop more technology.