How Technology is Changing the San Francisco Food Scene
By: Stephanie Garr, Staff Writer
San Francisco has one of the most revered and revolutionary food scenes on the planet. You’ll find a mind-boggling array of Michelin star restaurants; top chefs; artisanal makers of cheese, chocolate, meats, wine, macarons, bone broth, you name it; and even a patented machine that makes the world’s purest ice cream in under 90 seconds. When it comes to food, this is a world-class city, but it’s far from immune to real-world problems.
For those in the food biz, surviving San Francisco’s cutthroat culinary scene is nothing compared to surviving its rising rents. The sparkling peninsular jewel of the West Coast is now one of America’s priciest treasures, much thanks to its proximity to Silicon Valley. It’s no secret that tech’s rise in the 21st century has had a direct effect on San Francisco’s livelihood, most significantly, its long-time residents and restaurateurs.
Socioeconomic pressures have led to monumental shifts in the look and feel of neighborhoods and the cafes and restaurants that serve them. It’s become so expensive to live in San Francisco that restaurants struggle to find chefs, line cooks, dishwashers, and servers, and when they do, they struggle to pay them the increasing minimum wage without raising menu prices significantly.
As a result, foodies and techies have started to unite to come up with some potential technological solutions—mostly in the form of robots—as well as some environmentally-friendly answers to offering healthier, more affordable food options to a wider range of humans. Will robots and humans live peacefully in this brand new food world?
Here are some of the wackier ways technology is changing the San Francisco food scene.
To cut the costs of a staff, the founders of Eatsa decided to completely eliminate the front-of-house. This means, “No lines. No cashier. No nonsense.” Instead, you’ll get your personalized bowl and beverage lickety-split by ordering from a kiosk and picking up your meal at a self-serve portal. The food itself is prepared by hidden humans in the back, who offer a healthier spin on fast food with options like a Burrito Bowl, Hummus & Falafel, and Multigrain Oatmeal. Visit one of Eatsa’s two locations in the Financial District, at 1 California Street or 121 Spear Street.
Cafe X has perfected the art and science of crafting the perfect cup of coffee with a robotic barista. Like Eatsa, the goal here is ease and efficiency—this barista can crank out 120 cups an hour. From their tablet or app, you’ll pick your espresso-based drink, roaster of choice (including local faves Ritual, Equator, and Intelligentsia), bean potency, and type of milk, and then pick up your joe in a matter of seconds. Visit one of Cafe X’s two locations at the Metreon, on 135 4th Street, or at 578 Market Street.
Momentum Machines takes Eatsa’s system one step further by reinventing both the front- and back-of-house. This collective of restaurateurs and roboticists has first put its focus on grilled-to-order gourmet burgers. The goal here is to offer a top-notch, personalized burger at an affordable price. Their robot—which can ground and grill up an impressive 400 burgers an hour—first debuted in 2012. Since, the company has been teasing the opening of a restaurant in San Francisco’s SoMa district which finally opened in July of this year. Tickets for their $6 burgers are sold out through the end of August.
Yelp’s Eat24 Marble Delivery Robots
Yelp may have one-upped all of these, though, by bringing the food straight to youvia robot. In 2017, robotics start-up Marble teamed up with Yelp’s food-delivery service, Eat24, to replace human couriers with self-driving robots. After you’ve placed your order through the Yelp Eat24 site or app, a robot makes its way from Marble’s Potrero Hill headquarters to the restaurant and finally your address. Marble’s mission is to drive the cost down of deliveries for both consumers and restaurants. So far, the rolling robots have been serving the Mission and Potrero Hill neighborhoods as their human masters plot out bigger plans.
The Impossible Burger
Moving on from robots, other Bay Area companies have been cooking up some innovative food items geared toward health nuts and vegans. The first big success story is the Impossible Burger, a 100% plant-based patty that “bleeds.” According to their website, “Compared to cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95% less land, 75% less water, and creates 87% less greenhouse gas emissions.” The key ingredient here is heme, an iron-containing compound that exists in every plant but is most abundant in meat. You can now find Impossible Burgers in select locations around the U.S., including restaurants in San Francisco like Gott’s Roadside, The Elite Cafe, Umami Burger, Mel’s Kitchen and more.
New Wave Foods’ Vegan Shrimp
Another win for vegans comes with the Bay Area-based female-fronted New Wave Foods. This small team of marine conservationists and sustainable food advocates has devised a formula for vegan shrimp made exclusively from algae and plants. Right now, you can try New Wave’s shrimp at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s cafe and in Palo Alto’s Calafia Cafe.