For $6 you will get a made-to-order burger from a “culinary instrument”, also known as a robot burger maker, that has 20 computers, 50 actuator mechanisms, and 350 sensors. The 14-foot-long machine slices and toasts the brioche bun; adds sauces and spices to order; slices tomatoes, pickles, and onions; and grates cheese. Everything is visible through a glass front and ready in five minutes. The only part of the process not visible is the grinding and cooking of the hormone-free, pasture-raised brisket and chuck steak burger.
For Alex Vardakostas, co-founder and CEO of Creator, it was a logical extension of his family’s business. Vardakostas’ family owns A’s Burgers in Southern California, and two of his aunts own their own burger chains. He grew up working in the restaurants. “When you make 400 of the same burger every day, you can’t help but think, ‘How would I make this experience better?’” Vardakostas said. Machines can be more consistent and less of a public health liability than humans.
The restaurant is not all automatic. There are human workers as well, restocking ingredients, acting as “concierges” to take orders and payments, and delivering cooked burgers to seated patrons. Employees earn $16 per hour, $1 above San Francisco’s minimum wage, and Creator plans to hold robotics and industrial design classes to help train its workers for more advanced careers.
Vardakostas started working on his concept out of his parents’ home in 2009. After a move to the Bay Area, he teamed up with Creator co-founder and COO Steve Frehn, a mechanical engineer who worked at NASA and Tesla. Now the company employs 40 engineers, designers, and roboticists from Apple, and Walt Disney Imagineering R&D.
Lemnos was the first investor in Creator, then called Momentum Machines. “As their earliest investor, it has been amazing to watch Momentum go from their earliest prototypes to the polish, technical complexity, and user simplicity of Creator,” says Lemnos partner Eric Klein.
In addition to Lemnos, funding has come Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Root Ventures, Zynga cofounder Justin Waldron, Great Oaks Venture Capital in New York, and K5 Ventures in Orange County.
Creator has plans to open in other cities and locations such as airport terminals, stadiums, and universities. For now, you can get tickets for the first Creator restaurant at 680 Folsom Street in San Francisco to try what the Wall Street Journal called, “The best $6 burger I’ve ever had.”