Star Trek’s ‘replicator’ inspires Burritobox
Well dressed and energetic, Denis Koci was in his element surrounded by a hungry gaggle of onlookers as he explained and demonstrated Burritobox, an automated burrito-doling machine he created that’s based on the “replicator” food machines in Star Trek. Koci, a self-labeled futurist, is a massive fan of the spacey TV series.
“Star Trek is my favorite thing ever and I watched every episode,” he said, explaining the genesis of Burritobox. “They always have this device called a replicator—you just go to it and whatever you want to eat pops up.”
Thinking about ways to feed the hungry in developing nations, and looking to hyper-developed Japan where you can get a steaming cup of ramen from vending machines on subway platforms, Koci sees a future where his bright orange Burritoboxes are placed in convenience stores, train stations, student unions and military bases the world over. He was set to launch the second, much more advanced generation of the machines as part of a multi-city rollout in mid-October. About 28 machines were set up in the first wave.
Originally focusing his efforts on a pizza machine, Koci was disappointed by the first robotic prototypes companies developed for his company, The Box Brands. That’s when he realized, “these guys don’t know what they’re doing.”
He decided to put his time, financial wherewithal and future-leaning brainpower into developing his own. The future product, a bright orange box 8/10ths the size of a typical soda machine, has a massive touchscreen and plays music videos for customers while a proprietary, non-microwave process heats a handmade burrito and even prepares sides like guacamole, warm tortilla chips, sour cream and hot sauce.
Rightfully so, designing a machine in-house wasn’t an easy process, and health concerns were at the top of the to-do list. “That’s the biggest question the consumer has, ‘Am I going to get sick if I eat this?’” Koci said.
So far, he claims the company hasn’t received a single health violation or customer complaint due to illness.
Yelp reviews have been mixed, with some adventurous eaters loving the Jetsonian convenience and taste, and others expressing distaste at the taste, temperature and even concept of getting handmade hot food out of a robotic machine. “After finishing my soggy steak burrito,” wrote Robin F. from Los Angeles, “I cried a little because I just ate a burrito from a vending machine while sitting in a gas station parking lot.”
Undeterred, and citing stats like 100,000 burritos sold in the L.A. metro last year, Koci’s looking ahead to resurrecting Pizzabox, and also expanding into burgers and baked breakfast goods in the coming years.
When we met in mid-summer, The Box Brands had 10 franchisees and is seeking similarly future-minded partners. “We now have business owners who are going to run these machines like their baby and that’s the goal, to have that human element,” he said. “The machine communicates pretty well and has a lot of features, but it’s not a human.”
The franchise fee starts at $50,000, including the first box. With locations in many American cities, and new locations popping up at several major airports, the future of on-the-go food may already be upon us.
“Automation is happening and it’s not something that’s magically going to go away,” Koci said. “It’s something that’s going to help us have more time to spend with our kids and more money in our pockets.”