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Kernel opens first location near Baruch

Carol Chen

Steve Ells, founder and former CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, opened the first Kernel location at 315 Park Avenue South on Feb. 12. 

After fundraising $36 million and contributing $10 million from his personal funds, Ells created Kernel with the intention of a chain with a reduced carbon footprint and number of human employees needed.

Kernel offers a plant-based menu which currently consists of two sandwiches, four salads, four sides and two sweets, along with sauces and drinks. About three human employees work alongside the technology created by Kernel’s hardware and software team. This vegetarian fast-casual restaurant aims to revolutionize the restaurant’s economic model through technology.

A customer can place their order online through Kernel’s website or app. Once the order is ready, Kernel will send an email or text with the cubby number. Then, they can head over to Kernel and find their food behind their assigned cubby. The customer uses their phone and clicks a button that says “Click to unlock” to open the cubby door and receive their order.

Kernel’s CEO, Eric Wilson, has also worked with Ells at Chipotle.

“Kernel is definitely a tech company and a restaurant,” Wilson said in an interview with The Ticker.

A regular kitchen environment requires 12 to 15 staff members working in a small space. By employing only three human staff, Kernel would be able to serve a customer’s order in just four minutes. In addition, the human staff would be paid higher and would not have to endure the same stress.

Although many customers are intrigued by the robot, it is still the humans who are making the food while the robot assists. In fact, according to Wilson, the plant-based food not the robot — should take priority. 

“Our food is special, it’s high quality and at a good price point,” Wilson said.

Ells was inspired to create Kernel after reading “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates. After learning how much animal production contributed to greenhouse gas emissions, Ells wanted to create a food chain that would have a positive impact on the environment. If the chain could grow to the size of Chipotle, it would be impactful for the environment and consumers’ health.

Despite its founder’s past in Chipotle, Kernel is not meant to be like Chipotle at all. Inside the store, the minimalist layout, lack of chairs and wall of cubbies create a grab-and-go environment. 

“We’ve taken a lot of human interaction out of the process and left just enough,” Ells said.

As of right now, there is not heavy marketing for Kernel. They hope to open their first location without drawing too much attention and eventually draw in customers from social media and food delivery apps.

Kernel’s opening gives Baruch students and residents another option for plant-based meals. As the younger generation shows concern over climate awareness, many have opted for plant-based diets.

It is unknown when the next Kernel will open, but Ells hopes to open 15 more in New York in the next two years.

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