Kimbal Musk uses BOH automation for upscale food at a low price. Americans want real food cooked from scratch—but cooking real food consistently requires training, says Kimbal Musk, co-founder and chairman of Next Door American Eatery. “Doing that consistently takes the touch of a chef with years of apprenticeship,” he says.

And that means hiring—and paying—a skilled culinary team, something Musk has done for his upscale, farm-to-table concept The Kitchen. While he says he’s proud of The Kitchen’s use of local ingredients and a local team, the price point kept him up at night. “I wanted to open restaurants that were more affordable, but still offered the same quality food we served at the bistro,” Musk says. “But how? ...

“Enter automation.”

Automation is helping Next Door navigate the realities of a tight labor market, Musk says. And that includes in tertiary cities, where trained chefs aren’t as easy to come by. With five locations in Colorado and one in Tennessee, the chain is entering Indianapolis this month. In that unit, the automated technology is purposely behind the scenes, out of sight of guests. Unlike some concepts putting robots upfront, Next Door focuses on back-of-house equipment that allows it to bring in less skilled workers as chefs. 

And, Musk adds, it’s what has enabled the brand to grow. By 2020, he expects to have at least 40 locations of Next Door, which will hire 1,000 young cooks. 

“While people have good reason to be cautious about automation, the right kind of automation will enhance our 15-million-strong restaurant workforce for the better.” 
—Kimbal Musk, Next Door American Eatery