DoorDash has acquired salad-making robot startup Chowbotics, the companies announced Monday. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the Chowbotics team have all become DoorDash employees, and the company will operate independently within DoorDash.
“We have long admired the work that Chowbotics has done to increase access to fresh meals, with its groundbreaking robotics product and vision,” DoorDash co-founder Stanley Tang said in statement emailed to The Verge. “With the Chowbotics team on board, we can explore new use cases and customers, providing another service to help our merchants grow.”
Chowbotics was founded in 2014, and its fresh food robot Sally — a rectangular machine that’s essentially a salad vending machine — can create customizable salads, grain and poke bowls, parfaits, cereals, and snacks all within a small space. The robot is used by companies like universities, hospitals, and grocery stores, according to a blog post from DoorDash general manager Penn Daniel.
DoorDash currently has the greatest share of the US food delivery market, around 48 percent, ahead of rivals like UberEats and Grubhub. Its revenue skyrocketed in 2020 as restaurants closed in-person dining due to the pandemic and customers relied on delivery services. But when DoorDash went public late last year, its IPO was criticized by some analysts as lacking in value; they questioned how DoorDash would be able to continue to grow if demand for food delivery subsides once the pandemic is over.
Analyst David Trainer of New Constructs said at the time, “We think this proposed public equity offering holds no value, $0, beyond bailing out private investors before unsuspecting public investors realize the business is not viable in its current form.”
But the Chowbotics acquisition raises interesting questions about DoorDash’s post-pandemic plans. Daniel wrote in the blog post that Chowbotics will allow DoorDash to help the restaurants that use its delivery platform expand their offerings. It seems likely that Chowbotics’ vending machines would fit into the ghost kitchen model, which are delivery-only restaurants that some in the industry regard warily. DoorDash has a ghost kitchen facility in California, and last year announced it was working with Chicago restaurant Krazy Hog — which closed in-person dining during the pandemic — as part of its Reopen for Delivery initiative.
If you’re ordering for delivery, chances are you’d never know whether your salad was made by a Chowbotics robot or a human unless the restaurant tells you. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to brand their delivery operations under a different name — like when some diners discovered the pizzas they ordered from “Pasqually’s” actually came from kids’ eatery Chuck E. Cheese.