Flying pizzas and other CES thoughts
Begrudgingly, I confront the reality of drone delivery
“Won’t the pizza get cold?” my friend Robin whispered to me last week after listening to the panel I led at CES1. She was asking about pizza delivery by drone, a topic that the panel landed on toward the end of our discussion.
That’s because one of the panelists was futuristic-thinking restaurateur Lee Kindell. Kindell runs a Seattle pizza concept called Moto, which started as a temporary business during Covid. (Before that, he ran a backpackers’ hostel and boutique hotel, though he did prepare pizza for guests.) Moto has run a months-long waitlist, and now has three restaurant locations plus an additional spot in Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, home of the Mariners.
Kindell is, by my account, a techno-optimist… in that he’s very, very optimistic about using technology to grow his pizza business. (It’s certainly not the same brand of techno-optimism made famous by that Marc Andreesen manifesto last fall; this is more of a… hospitable techno-optimism.) He’s very into pizza robots2; Moto uses one built by Seattle’s Picnic to assemble hundreds of pies every day. He’s said he’ll approach any tech company with a viable idea, and is open to experimentation and iteration in search of the perfect technology-fueled business.
Last month, industry site The Spoon — not coincidentally the organizer of the aforementioned CES panel — broke news that Kindell and Moto raised $1.85 million in “non-venture capital” funding in part to help its expansion within Washington, but also to southern California.
Then there are the delivery drones.
Moto recently inked a deal with Zipline, a drone delivery company, and Kindell says drone delivery is coming in 2024. Zipline is, according to its website, “the best delivery experience not on earth.” It is, in fact, otherwordly. If you live in a certain area in Utah, for example, Zipline can drop you fresh cookies from a spot called Chip. The cookies are dropped from the drone in a box with an attached parachute — truly, you have to see it to believe it. A new version of the drone, presumably the one that Moto will eventually use, will lower an insulated “droid” with a customer’s food. Per the company, it can target a delivery area as small as a backyard picnic table. The drones hold two medium pizzas — though they have to be packaged in Zipline’s custom-designed boxes. At first look, these seem to stack the two halves of the pie on top of each other to create a semi-circle-shaped package.
Who said a pizza has to be round, anyway? An evolving pizza shape isn’t a problem for Moto’s Kindell, as he proudly explained to me during our post-panel happy hour. Moto redesigned the shape of its pizzas at T-Mobile Park based on the size of an iPhone, so diners could comfortably hold it in one hand. “This is our pizza,” he said, lining up two phones head-to-tail on our group’s table among more than a few margaritas.
Is this the type of delivery game-changer we’ve been waiting for?
Zipline says its fleet of drones can deliver food up to 10 miles away in less than 10 minutes. It markets itself as an alternative to third-party delivery services, which is particularly brilliant given the star power the winged bots will bring with them when they really start flying. Sweetgreen signed on last year as an early partner, and Zipline appears to be actively courting other restaurants.
The business of flying stuff to customers is keeps getting more realistic. During CES, Walmart announced that the drone delivery service it’s been testing in Texas now covers three-quarters of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, serving 1.8 million homes. (Zipline is one of the services working with Walmart.)
“Drone delivery is not just a concept of the future, it’s happening now and will soon be a reality for millions of additional Texans,” Prathibha Rajashekhar, Walmart’s senior vice president of innovation and automation said in a release.
There are still plenty of regulatory hurdles to cross before drone delivery from restaurants is as ubiquitous as a contracted third-party driver. And embracing the idea of food dropped from the sky — really, truly embracing it in a way that Moto’s Kindell definitely does but I’m still having trouble doing — still seems like a tall order for much of America that has yet to experience it.
But, Kindell promised me, the pizza definitely won’t get cold.
Uber is shutting down Drizly, the alcohol delivery service it bought for over a billion dollars three years ago. Uber’s senior vice president of delivery said it was time to stop supporting multiple services and focus on the UberEats app, where customers can still buy booze for delivery. — Axios
OpenAI launched GPT Store last week, which lets paying users “create, share, and interact with customized AI agents that are tailored to specific tasks,” per the Atlantic. Also per the Atlantic, it’s “ChatGPT’s FarmVille moment,” likening the first steps toward creating an open platform to change the way we use the internet to steps Facebook made a decade-and-a-half ago. — The Atlantic
Will Toast raise prices for restaurants this year? Probably! — Restaurant Dive
Please don’t forget the real people that power your app-based convenience. “Food delivery workers were for a brief period celebrated in New York as the Covid-19 pandemic drove life indoors and their services became critical,” reads a particularly poignant New York Times report on the deaths of food delivery workers and the groups working to memorialize them. — NYT
Influential restaurant review TikTok-er Keith Lee came to the San Francisco Bay Area… and then cut his visit short, saying the city was “not a place for tourists right now.” Do we really need him to tell us what’s good? — San Francisco Chronicle
And a counterpoint: But also, Lee was hospitalized with an allergic shellfish reaction, presumably because a restaurant wasn’t honest about its safety practices. Also, is the Bay Area really that great right now? — Illyanna Maisonet’s newsletter
Big delivery companies (and other big contract work companies) don’t seem too bothered by the new federal rule from the Department of Labor aimed to prevent worker misclassification. Their confidence is unsurprising… look at the track record these companies have bending legislation in their favor. — Fast Company
The Consumer Electronics Show, a giant trade show in Las Vegas that covers everything tech.