Chipotle Mexican Grill makes its first two investments in a venture capital fund

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Chipotle Mexican Grill announced its first two investments Thursday through its $50 million Cultivate Next venture fund launched earlier this year.

The fund invests in Hyphen, a foodservice platform that designs automated production lines to help restaurant owners, operators and aspiring chefs make their kitchen operations more efficient.

In addition, the fund invests in Meati Foods, a company developing vegetable proteins from mushroom roots. The company’s first product, launching this month, will include whole-food cutlets and steaks – made from mushrooms in a sustainable and clean process – under the Eat Meati brand.

Details of the investments were not disclosed. The Cultivate Next fund was designed to make early investments in seed-stage through Series B companies that can accelerate Chipotle’s aggressive growth plans and advance the company’s Food With Integrity mission, as well as potentially revolutionize the restaurant industry.

Hyphen, for example, has developed The Makeline, an automated system that uses robotics and a custom operating system to allow kitchens to move faster – potentially over 350 meals per hour. Designed to eliminate order defects and cross-contamination, the system assembles digital orders from various sources under the counter through automated production, allowing staff to assemble internal orders from the top of the counter. The company is already working with restaurant chains, virtual brands and unidentified co-packers.

“Hyphen is reimagining the intersection between manufacturing lines and digital kitchens, with a focus on improving order speed and accuracy,” said Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief technology officer, in a statement. communicated. “Their use of robotics to improve the employee and customer experience to find efficiencies in the restaurant industry aligns with our mission to leverage emerging technologies to increase access to real food.”

Chipotle pioneered the model of using a second manufacturing line in the kitchen to support orders going through digital channels. The Newport Beach, Calif.-based chain is also testing the use of robotics to support kitchen staff by taking over tasks such as frying tortillas.

Stephen Klein, co-founder and CEO of Hyphen, said Cultivate Next’s investment will allow the San Jose, Calif.-based tech company to accelerate hiring, invest more in research and development while providing the infrastructure needed to scale sustainably.

“We are excited to work with Chipotle to find more innovative solutions by removing repetitive tasks from the employee experience so they can focus on creating delicious food and providing exceptional hospitality,” Klein said in a statement. communicated.

Meati Foods, based in Boulder, Colorado, has developed a year-round indoor growing system that produces mushroom roots without exposure to pollutants or pesticides, and without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones at times. used in meat.

“We’re excited to support new ways to bring vegetables to the center of the plate through plant-based alternative protein options that reflect Chipotle’s Food With Integrity standards,” Garner said. “Meati produces responsibly grown plant-based protein that tastes great.”

Tyler Huggins, co-founder and CEO of Meati Foods, said in a statement: “The inauguration of the Cultivate Next venture capital fund is an important signal of Meati’s potential for industry leadership and new investments like this one. will help us evolve our operations and our mission. crew.”

Meat, for example, appeared earlier this year on the menu at the Colorado-based Birdcall concept in the form of a crispy cutlet topped with Asian slaw, wontons, General Tso sauce and sriracha aioli.

Chipotle has been experimenting with various plant-based proteins, including a pea-based chorizo ​​product earlier this year. For years, the chain offered a spicy tofu option on the menu called Sofritas. Company officials did not say whether Meati products would be on the menu.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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