- Zume Pizza has robots and humans working together to make pizza.
- The Silicon Valley company plans to increase its workforce sevenfold this year.
- Zume offers opportunities for entry-level employees to learn new skills and advance their careers, so they don’t risk being replaced by robots.
A pizza-delivery company based in Silicon Valley is expanding its robot and human workforce as it moves toward its goal of making better-tasting pizza faster.
Founded in 2015, Zume Pizza uses robots and artificial intelligence to automate some of the pizza making. Machines press mounds of dough, squirt and spread sauce, and lift pizzas into the oven – in a fraction of the time it would take human workers to do the same.
Zume has grown from a three-person operation to a workforce of 150, and it plans to hire another 900 employees in 2018 as it looks to scale outside the San Francisco Bay Area. Ron Storn, former vice president of people at Lyft, has joined Zume to oversee its expansion.
Storn has the novel task of running human resources at a company where humans and machines work side by side. Automation threatens to take 800 million jobs globally by 2030, and Zume wants to show that it can actually promote job growth by putting robots to work.
Zume uses robots with swinging appendages and spouts to automate parts of the pizza-making process that humans are bad at, like spreading sauce evenly or taking dough off a wooden pallet. Robots also do the dangerous stuff, like putting a pizza in a 800-degree industrial oven.
When routine tasks are eliminated by automation, it frees up people such as pizza chefs to learn new skills, do more high-level work, and even advance their career, according to Storn.
“People – humans – are very sacred to us,” Storn told Business Insider.
“The people who are working here in the culinary organisation, they see how the automation is helping them improve and making them more efficient,” he added.
In 2016, Zume’s cofounder and president Julia Collins told Business Insider that she makes a promise to every employee: No one who works at Zume risks being replaced by a robot.
Zume provides tuition subsidies for entry-level employees who want to take classes in coding, graphic design, or English as a second language. A former Zume delivery driver attended a coding bootcamp and now oversees the customer-support team, while a former pizza chef was promoted to culinary administrator, responsible for the upkeep and operation of Zume’s bots.
“What we want to do is actually let people have the opportunity to keep growing. I think where the fast-food industry falls short is exactly that,” Collins said. “It’s not typical for somebody to be able to start at a fast-food restaurant and get sponsorship to go to a coding academy.”
Storn will be tasked with scaling these programs as the company grows its workforce from 150 employees to about 1,050 in 2018. Zume raised $US48 million in venture funding last fall.
The pizza industry is a $US44 billion business, and an increasing number of customers are ditching legacy brands like Domino’s and Pizza Hut for fast-casual chains. In 2016, three out of the top five fastest-growing restaurant chains in America were fast-casual pizza concepts. Their sales accounted for over a third of US fast-casual spending that year.
Zume has only a sliver of the pie. It delivers in Mountain View and Palo Alto. But the expected growth spurt could help Zume reach its goal of serving the entire Bay Area by 2019.
“In a co-bot type of environment, you can do things that have never been done before,” Storn said.