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Sweetgreen Betting On Eatery Automation With Purchase Of Robot-Powered Salad Joints

Plant-based restaurant chain Sweetgreen is set to acquire Spyce, a Boston-based restaurant startup that uses automated kitchens to prepare salads and other bowl-based food.

The Spyce location in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Spyce has locations in Downtown Boston and at Harvard Square in Cambridge. Both units use conveyor belts lined with robotic dispensers to release exact amounts of ingredients, as well as high-temperature cooking surfaces and steamers to prepare non-red-meat proteins and pasta.

The system allows Spyce to create as many as 350 salads and grain bowls each hour, fulfilling orders in three minutes or less, according to the company. Customers place orders through an app or a self-service kiosk on-site.

Since its founding in 2015 by four Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates, Spyce has raised about $24M from investors, including noted chef Daniel Boulud, CNBC reports. The company opened its first location in 2018, closed to make adjustments to the process and reopened late last year.

Sweetgreen, which now has more than 130 locations, is still in the process of figuring out how to use the technology that it is acquiring in the Spyce deal, QSR magazine reports, adding that the acquisition might also make Sweetgreen more attractive to investors. The companies didn't specify a sale price.

In June, Los Angeles-based Sweetgreen filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to become a publicly traded company, submitting a confidential draft registration with the agency. A filing of that kind typically means that a company is looking to raise at least $100M, the Los Angeles Business Journal reports, though Sweetgreen hasn't specified a target amount yet.

Automated kitchens are potential workarounds for the shortage of restaurant workers. In July, unemployment rates at restaurants and bars stood at 8.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 5.4% for the entire U.S. workforce. 

Restaurant and bar workers are also being paid more now. In March 2021, their average hourly earnings were $16.29. By June, the average had increased to $16.99, the BLS reports.