Zume shuts down its robot-powered pizza business

The company, once said to be valued at $4 billion, is laying off half its staff and pivoting its focus as it joins other struggling robot-enabled restaurant startups.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Robot-powered Zume Pizza, which was recently said to be valued at close to $4 billion, is no more—at least not as a pizza-making operation.

The 5-year-old Mountain View, Calif.-based company this week said it will cut 172 jobs there, 80 jobs in San Francisco and 78 positions in Seattle, according to documents filed with state labor agencies.

In laying off 53% of its workforce, Zume is shutting down its pizza delivery business and is shifting its focus to food packaging, production and delivery systems. The focus shift will require the company to add 100 new jobs, which the laid-off employees could apply for, according to a Zume spokesperson.

The company was reportedly burning through $10 million a day last summer, with that figure rising significantly by the end of the year, according to Bloomberg news service.

“As we move forward with this new strategy, many of the current roles at  Zume no longer exist and we regret we must say goodbye to a number of our valued friends and fellow Zumers,” Zume CEO and founder Alex Garden wrote in a company email shared with Restaurant Business. “Zume was founded on a clear mission to engineer a more sustainable food system. Our mission has not changed.”

Zume, which partnered with Pizza Hut late last year to test a round box, said it plans to expand its packaging facilities in the U.S. and globally, continue to provide food production and delivery systems, and continue to invest in research and development initiatives.

In 2018, SoftBank invested $375 million in the young company, which drew interest for using robots and high-tech trucks with ovens to prep, cook and deliver its pizzas. That investment was reported to have given Zume a valuation of $2.25 billion at the time.

Zume is not the only much-hyped, robot-powered food company experiencing struggles recently.

Spyce, the Boston-based bowl concept created by MIT grads that got $21 million in funding in 2018, announced in November that it would close temporarily to reconcept “in the coming months.” Today, Spyce’s website leads to an error page.

And the robot baristas of Cafe X are out of work, as the San Francisco coffee concept announced this week that all three of its units were closed.

Cafe X founder Henry Hu said on Twitter that he plans to expand his robotic coffee concepts in airports this year.


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