You Had Me at Pizza & Robots

Abby Tegnelia | June 25, 2019 | Food & Drink Story Tech World

The Spaniard pie, by guest chef Jen Biesty of Oakland’s Shakewell restaurant, will raise money for parks and recreation.

Outside of Silicon Valley, any restaurant with bragging rights to having made “everything from scratch” brings to mind homemade pastas and freshly baked bread. But at Mountain View’s Zume Pizza, they mean the app, programmable ovens in mobile kitchens, and proprietary robots with pizzaiolo-sounding names such as Bruno and Vincenzo.

These techie accoutrements do more than endear Zume to its startup-heavy environs. President Rhonda Woolf (formerly of Clorox and Del Monte) insists that by bringing its mobile kitchens (13 from San Mateo to Los Gatos to Pleasanton) closer to its consumers, Zume can one-up the competition.

“During the week, we take our trucks to companies to serve during meetings,” Woolf says. “In the evening, we follow them home to their neighborhoods for dinner. That’s the coolest part, cooking on demand and getting the kitchen closer to consumers for shortened delivery times and fresher pizzas.”

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The pizzas are assembled in Mountain View and loaded onto Zume’s trucks. When an order comes in, the pizza is baked on demand in a smart Welbilt oven (that knows each pie’s baking time). Because there are so many trucks, Zume claims to cut down on delivery time.

Zume Pizza is the brainchild of venture capitalist Alex Garden, who worked at Microsoft and Zynga and is Zume’s chairman and CEO. He brought in co-founder/president Julia Collins, formerly of New York City’s Mexicue, Murray’s Cheese and Harlem Jazz Enterprises, to bring in the foodie component. Think nitrate-free meats, seasonal specials and local produce. It’s by nixing brick-and-mortar locations that Zume keeps the price down to $9.99 to $17.99 a pie. (Collins has since left the company.)

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Robots in Zume’s kitchens load pizzas onto trays and spare humans from repetitive stress injuries.

Under Woolf’s helm, this spring, Zume served its 100,000th pizza and enjoyed its aforementioned expansion into Los Gatos and the East Bay, neatly coincideding with the debut of its new Pies With Purpose program, which kicked off with Top Chef alum Jen Biesty of Oakland’s Shakewell restaurant. Biesty’s Spaniard pie raised money for Oakland’s Parks and Recreation Foundation and paved the way for future fundraising partnerships.

“People have been intrigued by the robots!” says Woolf, who points out that Marta spreads on the sauce with the back of a spoon in an imperfect (and thus more human) way. “But it’s the good food that keeps them coming back.”

Originally published in the June issue of Silicon Valley

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Photography by: Photos Courtesy of Zume Pizza