When we received an alert from Basil Street Pizza that the Celtic Tavern is now home to one of its automated pizza kitchens (APK), "the first automated, cooked-to-order pizza kiosk available in the U.S.," we gave it a try, and readers had a lot to say about our report (more below).
But after one commenter noted that a similar machine has existed at Xavier University since 2016, we decided we needed to check out not just the pizza, but that "first...available in the U.S." claim from the company.
"I went out on my first big fundraising trip in August of 2016 in Wichita, Kansas," explains Basil Street Pizza founder and CEO Deglin Kenealy, "and I was quite alarmed because I saw this thing about the Pizza ATM going into Xavier University and thought, 'Oh, my God. Here I am just getting started, and there's already something out there that's up and going.'"
So technically, Basil Street is not the first APK in the country. But it is the first one developed in the U.S., and there are definitely some differences between Basil Street Pizza and Pizza ATM.
Before Basil Street, there were only three manufacturers of automated pizza kitchens in the world, according to Alec Verlin, president of Paline, the company behind Pizza ATM — one in Italy and two in France. Paline imports machines from France, brands them as Pizza ATM and sells them to places like Xavier University with a licensing agreement; it does not provide the pizzas. But Paline has only sold six machines in the U.S. since 2016. "I don't think it's taking off here," Verlin admits.
For Kenealy, the idea behind Basil Street started with pizza. "Years ago, I made an investment with a guy...Roberto Villani, who's now one of my partners, and the reason I did is because Roberto made this amazing gluten-free pizza," he says. "The pizza was so good that my kids would choose that frozen pizza out of our freezer instead of California Pizza Kitchen or DiGiorno."
Initially, Kenealy focused on getting the pizzas into grocery stores, which was a challenge. But when Villani proposed automated kitchens, Kenealy was hesitant. "My idea of a vending machine was, you put the quarters in, you pull the knob and your bag of Doritos or Fritos gets stuck and you have to shake the machine," he says. "Why in the world would you do pizza in something like that?"
But after learning more about automated kitchens, Kenealy began developing the Basil Street machine, building the first in a warehouse in California and eventually creating a model that can be manufactured by a third party and has two essential certifications, UL (Underwriter Laboratories) and NSF (National Sanitary Foundation), which make the Basil Street APK an appealing option to places like universities, airports, military bases, factories, hospitals and even a bar in Denver.
"That is the first one in a location like that," Kenealy says of the Celtic machine, and it's the first of fifty machines the company plans to roll out nationwide this year. Unlike Pizza ATM, Basil Street produces its own pies at Chicago-based Miracapo; they're distributed frozen to APK locations across the country. Each machine holds 140 pizzas and has three heating elements that can custom-cook each type of pie at temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
So while we still maintain that the pizza coming out of a Basil Street machine doesn't compare to fresh pies from local restaurants, the backstory is pretty tasty.
Meanwhile, here's what other readers have to say about the concept...and our story about the Celtic's vending-machine pie. Says George:
Coming to replace a $15 minimum wage worker near you. The automation revolution is upon us. Most people's jobs are already obsolete and can be replaced by a machine at any moment. The question os not if, but when people are replaced by machines. What is the aftermath? A whole world of people that cannot provide a living for themself.Adds Jacob:
Ain't capitalism just the greatest?!?!?!?Counters Jason:
More like "coming to replace a 22 cent/hourtypesetter near you." People have been replaced by machines for hundreds of years, yet we don't have a whole world of people who cannot provide a living for themselves. People adapt and find new things to do: things that will then, someday, be replaced by machines. It's a natural cycle, nothing to freak out about now.Comments Nikolas:
Awesome. Frozen pizza that is like one step above Domino's but worse than twenty places within five blocks of the Celtic.Responds Tim:
Still better than Papa Johns.Adds Joe:
At midnight, better than nothing.Concludes Ryan:
That hard-hitting news Westword is known for.Have you tried the Celtic's vending-machine pizza? The bar brought in the APK in order to provide food when the kitchen is closed but the bar is still open. What are your favorite late-night pizza joints around town? What's your favorite frozen pizza?