The French robotic pizzeria Pazzi has raised over $11 million of Series A funding. The Series A funding round was led by the Singaporean investment fund Qualgro, its first investment in Europe. The round includes funding from Eutopia, Partech, and Daphni, and a grouping of American and Swiss entrepreneurs from the retail and food sector who invest as part of The Merchant Club. Advising the round was the law firm Villechenon, along with the London VC firm Matador Ventures.
That is rather a lot of dough for a pizzeria. To get going, most of those restaurants just need a chef, a license and an oven — along with a few kinds of cheese, flours, and sauces, which is why pizza production is such a globally ubiquitous, saturated, and competitive part of food retail.
But what clearly resonated with Pazzi’s investors is really about who — or what — will be making that pizza: it will be a sweatless robot toiling ceaselessly by the restaurant’s roaring pizza oven, rapidly yet precisely kneading and rolling dough; slathering on a bit of sauce; sprinkling on other toppings; sliding it gently into the oven until slightly crispy. Never dozing off or getting distracted by ravenous punters, the robot removes the pizza, slices it up, and serves it with aplomb. Buon appetito!
“Like with sushi, pizzerias are the type of restaurant where there is a show. It was important to keep that tradition,” Pazzi CEO Phillipe Goldman tells AFN by phone late Sunday night as he revealed the news of his company’s latest raise. “We observed and learned from the habits of great pizzaïolos,” he says, describing his company’s robotic pizza maker as “one of the best in the world,” while claiming it can make up to five million pizza combinations with its various ingredients. Goldman says that all the dough is “lab sourced” and all the ingredients are more traceable, healthier and more sustainable than at incumbent fast food chains.
Pazzi, which means crazy in Italian, has focused on high-quality sourcing and exceptional recipes thanks to the help of celebrity chef Thierry Graffagnino — a three-time pizza world champion — who has produced recipes based on organic vegetables from Italy, clean label hams, French PDO cheeses, sustainable fish, and flour from Ile-de-France mills.
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It is the proud product of a company that has been using computer vision, robotics and deep learning ever since its founding in 2013 as EKIM by two early career engineers and pizza perfectionists Sébastien Roverso and Cyrill Hamon. Shifting from a career shaped by his time in cosmetics at L’Oreal Group, Goldman joined Pazzi in 2017 to help build the team and the brand. The team now stands at 15 people, mostly engineers, and Goldman expects to double the team’s size over the next two years.
Baking Ends Meet With 100 Pizzas an Hour
A busy time lies ahead as this team seeks to, shall we say, bake ends meet. Pazzi’s first restaurant is expected to launch in the Paris region this September at a Val d’Europe shopping mall. Management believes this opening will be a flagship and a first step on the way to a global deployment from 2020.
Buoyed by lower operational costs and higher precision, the company will offer concession and license models, zoning in on partners in commercial property, food halls, airports, universities, or train stations. They will also seek out partnerships in “ghost kitchens,” the slightly spooky term used for the various non-consumer facing, shared-space and centralized kitchens that are becoming popular via food delivery apps like Deliveroo. “Our robots are well suited to those deliveries,” says Goldman, “their timing is precise, and they don’t make mistakes.” They can offer, he says, 24/7 open catering at a speed of execution of 100 pizzas per hour.
Competition is expected from traditional pizza delivery powerhouses like Domino’s or Pizza Hut, and also from across the Atlantic through other robotic food tech companies in the US. Zume or Spyce are the obvious potential competitors that spring to mind. Goldman, however, does see more separating his company from Zume than geography or technology. He says Pazzi’s approach is more from the retail side, putting robots front and center, while Zume is more focused on logistics at its core.
Might other consumer-facing brands automating the food service industry also turn to pizza? It is very possible. For now, however, the robots at companies like Truebird, Cafe X, Alleycorp, Briggo, and Ratio are sticking to coffee or tea or similar beverages. Sunnyvale-based Blendid still has its Chef B at work mixing smoothies for $6. Chowbotics still has its robotic Sally focused on, as her name implies, tossing salads. And Creator’s Rube Goldberg machine is still in the business of flipping patties.
Conversely, Goldman sees no great appeal in his team’s robotics getting stuck into burgers or smoothies. “There’s a lot still to do in pizza,” he says.
Investors seem to agree. The closure of this $11 million Series A is a vote of confidence in Pazzi becoming a viable and market-leading automated offering from a continent that did, after all, invent the pizza.
Outlining his decision to invest, Qualgro VC Founder Heang Chhor said in a statement on Monday that the autonomous restaurant concept offered by Pazzi “is meeting a growing demand from consumers across the world for fast, qualitative and affordable food options. Its user-friendly digital tools and exciting robotics add to the overall great consumer experience. We are convinced that this concept could be rapidly scaled and implemented in big cities across the USA, Europe, and Asia.”