Pasadena-based Restaurant Group Puts Technology on the Menu

Facial recognition and robotic hamburger-making are the future, says CEO

Published : Tuesday, October 9, 2018 | 4:46 AM

Flippy, the Cali group's robotic hamburger cooker, leads the Pasadena technology company's charge into restaurant kitchens.

For John Miller, Chairman and CEO of Cali Group, a Pasadena-based restaurant company, it’s not just about patties and lettuce and tomatoes and pickles on their burgers. Technology and innovation are secret ingredients in each of the company’s recipes.

“We’re focused on developing new technologies for the restaurant industry, and we have our own restaurant chain called Cali Burger, that we operate and use to deploy our new technologies, prove them out, and demonstrate them for the world before we … commercialize them across the industry,” Miller explained recently.

Cali Burger, which sits inside The Rose, Old Pasadena’s classic rock nightclub, operates in one of the most competitive markets anywhere in the world—Southern California. And they are constantly striving to lead the technology battle being waged in kitchens across the country.

They were the first to use robotics to flip their burger patties, for example, and now they’ve also added facial recognition for loyalty account customers.

“When we decided to add facial recognition both to log into your loyalty account and also to pay,” said Miller, “we went out and we tested a variety of different platforms, and far and away the most effective, accurate and fastest technology was the NEC system. And so when we finally went to market, we were very confident that this was a solution that would work perfectly.”

To Miller, it’s a simple cost and efficiency issue.

“We’re constantly struggling with labor cost issues in the United States. And so self-ordering kiosks, which allow people to directly order and to order in a more efficient way by logging in with their face and paying with their face, reduces our labor costs,” he said.

“It makes the restaurant operate more efficiently,” Miller continued. “These face-based technologies, artificial intelligence, machine vision, allow us to see our customer in the offline world, like Amazon sees its customer in the online world and that allows us to create tailored experiences for the customer. [This] also allows us to directly target that customer in new ways when they come back to the restaurant.”

According to Miller, face recognition technology is the future right now.

“Our vision of the future is that everyday life will be dominated by the use of face to authenticate identity,” he says. “Plastic credit cards, parking lot entry permits, gym membership barcode scanners, and concert tickets will disappear, and there will be a universal platform that consumers subscribe to and merchants utilize to to authenticate identity.”

While the Pasadena restaurant is the group’s technology mothership, the company is planning to roll their technology out into all of its global restaurants in the next 12 months.

“The U.S. will be first,” said Miller. “So then the Seattle area, Maryland and DC, and then we’ll move abroad.”

Cali received worldwide attention in June when it introduced “Flippy,” its robotic technology, to prepare food at its Pasadena location.

According to Cali, Flippy is the world’s first autonomous robotic kitchen assistant that works alongside kitchen staff to assist in consistently preparing freshly cooked burgers. Flippy has been operating from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily since then, and has apparently not called in sick once yet.

“We have demonstrated that Flippy can work on our standard equipment and meet high volume demand with substantially greater cooking consistency than our kitchens that have not yet installed Flippy,” Tony Lomelino, Chief Technology Officer of CaliBurger, said in June.

“Additionally,” added Lomelino, “we have developed a program to retrain our restaurant staff to serve as ‘Chef Techs’ that work alongside Flippy and monitor the related software and hardware systems. We expect these skills will be useful for employees across our chain to secure higher income jobs that require human/robotic interaction in the future restaurant industry and other industries.”

Since Flippy was first premiered in March, it has prepared thousands of burger patties cooked consistently for customers, the company said. A CaliBurger statement said it will begin deploying Flippy in most of its domestic locations by the end of 2019.

“The collaboration between CaliBurger and Miso Robotics demonstrates how AI-driven robotics will improve food quality, decrease food production costs, and improve the lives of workers in the food industry,” said John Miller, CEO of Cali Group. “We will continue to invest in both companies, with the goal of developing other AI-driven robotic solutions to assist with other tasks at CaliBurger.”

But don’t worry. It still takes humans to eat. So far.

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