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This Vegan Fast Food Restaurant Offers $25 an Hour to Workers, Along With a Robotic Colleague

Workers get paid days off, sick leaves, and more—all for working with an unusual co-worker.
Cover Image Source: Unsplash | Photo by Bimo Luki
Cover Image Source: Unsplash | Photo by Bimo Luki

Employees at one of Manhattan's latest vegan takeout establishments are enjoying exceptional employment perks surpassing those typically offered to fast-food workers. At Kernel, workers have a starting wage of $25 per hour alongside many benefits amid escalating expenses. They also get to work with an unconventional colleague - a colossal automated robot arm. This restaurant chain, which launched in February in New York, is the brainchild of Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle, who harbors ambitions to revolutionize the industry.


"This is the first restaurant job I’ve had that doesn’t leave me broken or beaten at the end of the day," Kernel staff member Carlos De La Concha said.

In addition to their $25 hourly wage, Kernel's staff enjoys additional perks such as paid days off and sick leave. Furthermore, a forthcoming stock-option plan is set to transform them into employee-owners, rendering them virtually independent of tips in an era where tipping is increasingly uncommon.

Moreover, the workload for employees is minimal, as the bulk of tasks are handled by an automated behemoth affectionately dubbed "El Capitan." With its assembly line focusing on a concise menu of plant-based sandwiches and sides, the restaurant operates with just three human staffers.

Their mechanical co-worker, "El Capitan," is an impressive six-axis robot arm boasting a reach exceeding 3 feet and a wrist lifting capacity exceeding 11 pounds. According to reports, restaurant workers primarily assist this automated marvel.


At the heart of Kernel's operations lies "El Capitan," crafted by German manufacturer Kuk. This robotic marvel takes center stage as it meticulously assembles food items, plucking ingredients from a holding tray, placing them in an oven, and seamlessly passing them to its human counterpart on the assembly line.

The restaurant aims to redefine quick-serve for the AI and sustainability age. "I think this is yet another evolution of what a restaurant can be," Ells told Axios.


At this restaurant, customers place their orders online and receive precise pickup times. Upon arrival, they use an app to access lockers containing their orders. Ingredients for menu items are prepared off-site at a central kitchen and delivered hourly via e-bike. Once received, the robotic system assists in assembling specific orders.

According to Fortune, the reduced risk of human error and resulting food waste has enabled the restaurant to maintain competitive prices. For instance, a veggie burger is priced at around $7, over a dollar less than Shake Shack's offering of $8.29 for a similar item. This, coupled with minimal staff requirements, likely contributes to the establishment's ability to provide generous wages and benefits.


"Team members are enjoying the experience and automation is creating a better working environment for them and not a worse one," Stephen Goldstein, Kernel’s president says.

With $36 million in backing, including a personal investment of approximately $10 million, Ells launched Kernel. He wagered that both customers and employees desire reduced interaction and more competitive prices, positioning the eatery for success.