Steve Ells raises $36M for new Kernel

Chipotle's founder is expected to launch the automated restaurant concept this fall in New York City with hub-and-spoke model.
Steve Ells
Details have yet to be disclosed but Ells appears to be preparing for a comeback. | Photo courtesy of Restaurant Business

Chipotle’s founder and former CEO Steve Ells has reportedly raised about $36 million in Series A financing to launch his new concept Kernel.

DealBook on Thursday reported that Ells’ new Kernel Foods Inc. has secured investments from groups that include Raga Partners, Willoughby Capital, Rethink Foods and Virtru. None of the partners responded to requests for more information, but Raga Partners now lists Kernel among its current holdings.

Kernel is scheduled to debut in New York City this fall. The report describes the concept as following a hub-and-spoke model. The plant-based menu will be prepped in a central kitchen and food will then be biked to smaller and more-streamlined restaurant outlets where machines and a small crew of humans will assemble meals.

Earlier accounts indicated that the restaurant outlets could be operated in about 800 square feet with as few as three people, keeping labor costs low.

The focus on plant-based ingredients is designed to be eco-friendly, but DealBook noted that Ells found it difficult to create dishes with broad appeal.

Ells hopes to operate 15 locations within two years. The plan is to also license the technology to other chains.

“There’s no question that more and more automation is going to make its way into restaurants,” Ells told DealBook. “Once the hard work is done, once the platform is proven, it’s very, very simple to replicate.”

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