Salad-Making Robots to Invade New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS – Watch out: salad-making robots are invading the city.

In fact, the first one has already arrived and you can find it in the cafeteria of the University Medical Center New Orleans. 

“Sally,” the creation of a California company called Chowbotics, looks more like a vending machine than a culinary C3PO, but its form follows a noble function: to create healthy salads in a sanitary way that also cuts down on food waste. The device is here courtesy of the Salad Station, a Hammond-based restaurant chain, and Sherri Bridges, the franchisee responsible for Orleans Parish. There are 25 brick-and-mortar Salad Station locations in four southern states; there are 20 salad-making robots in Louisiana with more coming soon.

The Salad Station’s robot has 22 canisters containing salad ingredients like spinach and croutons. Diners make their choices and the machine dispenses the food into a bowl. One swipe of a card and lunch is ready.

Bridges, a former exec at a Northshore hospital, has purchased eight machines. She wouldn’t specify a price but Google says they go for about $30k each. Her partner in the venture is Brent Barrois.

Nationwide, the goal is to have 80 to 100 machines in use. In New Orleans, Bridges is aiming for installations at Children’s Hospital, Tulane Medical Center and at several large businesses and schools.

“I knew it was a million dollar idea,” she said. “I’m unique to the equation because I’m the only franchise owner that doesn’t also have a restaurant.”

Instead, Bridges is building a prep kitchen in Broadmoor that should be up and running soon. In the meantime, another franchisee from the area has been managing the UMC Salad Station machine. Soon it will be Bridges’ crew taking care of business.

“They’ll have a company vehicle, drive to work to receive deliveries and prep all the food,” she said. “Everything I receive is going to be freshly processed, chopped, no cooking. We have 22 airtight containers that fit into one machine. You fill them based on your usage, so certain ingredients will be changed out every day, some every other day but none above three days.”

The machines monitor temperature and will also send an alert to Bridges email if an ingredient is running low. Bridges said she wants customers to always have their ingredients of choice so they leave satisfied. Everything taken back to the prep kitchen will be treated as waste and be discarded.

Customers can buy their meals using credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay and Google Pay.

“There’s no risk of theft,” said Bridges. “They might get some lettuce off of them … but no cash.”

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