This New Pizza Is Made By, What, Robots?
Basil Street’s Automated Pizza Kitchen flourishes in the ATX
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
2:15PM, Thu. Oct. 7, 2021
Bufalina. Conan’s. Pinthouse. Southside Flying. Any of those pizza joints that battled in our “Pie Fighters” competition last year. And probably any other dedicated pizza place in town: Not a care in the world when it comes to the question, “Will these goddam robots take our jobs?”
On the other hand, as far as pizzas go – in a food landscape that perforce includes the various round and frozen slabs of sauce-topped dough from Your Grocer’s Freezer, not to mention whatever similar culinary objects are offered specifically for, ugh, microwaving – what comes out of Basil Street’s Automated Pizza Kitchen isn’t bad at all.
And, tbh, there aren’t really robots involved. I mean, not the sort of robots you’re used to seeing in Star Wars or whatever. There’s nothing humanoid going on here yet, okay? It’s pretty much a box with clever servomechanisms hidden from view.
But the Basil Street company invited me – the Chron’s Food Lieutenant, hello! – to try a pie from their big, fancy, not-a-robot, state-of-the-art machine in the lobby of the Skyloft apartments on the UT campus.
They invited me because they’re just starting out, these folks and their mega-sized pizza-vending apparatus, and they’d like some press, and so there I was: Talking to brand ambassador Kaitlyn Mitchell in the Skyloft lobby, learning about how the pizzas are stacked in the machine and ready to be baked for a customer’s convenience. Getting the lowdown on how they’re still tweaking the recipes to make things, like, even better. Hearing about how that particular machine sold out like whoa during last winter’s Big Ice Storm, Mitchell couldn’t restock the things fast enough, it was crazy.
And, of course, I had to try the pizza.
There are frozen pizzas waiting to be cooked inside those Basil Street APK machines: That’s no secret. Pies that are pretty much on par with most of the frozen pizzas you can get wherever you shop, I reckon. But maybe they're in the top half of that crowded product sector, you know? Not quite Paul Newman quality, not going to put the consumer-packaged-goods arm of Brooklyn-based Urban Pies out of business any time soon. And yet? Surprisingly good.
Surprisingly good, because crispy, thin-crust pies this palatable shouldn’t be coming out of a vending machine, right? No matter how stylishly designed that vending machine is?
Thing is, Basil Street’s got some kind of high-tech ovenating going on inside their machines, some proprietary thermal process that bakes a queued-up pizza in about three minutes, and slides it out in its own cardboard box, all piping hot and ready to be nommed (once it cools sufficiently, nota bene) by whoever’s paid for the thing.
[Note: The prices may change in the coming months, but we’re talking around $8 a pizza here.]
Yeah, we’re talking about $8 a pizza here, which seems reasonable, and you get that pizza by pushing a couple of buttons on a cleverly engineered machine and waiting a few minutes. You don’t destroy anything’s dough-based integrity by putting it in a microwave. You don’t have to deal with your own full-sized oven at home. You just pay the ’bot, maybe hum that one Sleigh Bells tune to yourself, take your pizza when it slides forth in its own box, and there you are.
(You what? You need a pizza cutter? Basil’s Street’s got you covered: There’s a tray attached to the machine that holds individually wrapped, remarkably effective, disposable plastic pizza cutters. Pro tip: Even if you’re eating your pizza elsewhere, take that cutter home with you. It’ll last for a few months. It’s rather handy.)
Locate these Automated Pizza Kitchen machines on a college campus or near a worker-filled factory somewhere, it’d be pretty hard for this entrepreneurial gambit to fail. “Weekends are especially busy,” ambassador Mitchell informs me. “We usually sell out. And just day-to-day, we go through a lot of pizzas. It’s just, it’s really convenient for the students.”
Mitchell’s there in the daytime. There’s another brand ambassador who’s in attendance overnight. These “ambassadors” are half community liaison, half robot babysitters, it seems like. Taking care of the business while promoting the business, making sure the customers are satisfied. And Mitchell’s gung-ho about her – and Basil Street’s – prospects. As if these pizza vendors are the start of something really big, right?
Nomming another slice of hot pepperoni pie – enjoying another slice of hot pepperoni pie, and thinking of when such convenience is really appreciated – I muse aloud to the brand ambassador: “You know, I don’t know if your corporate people have this in mind … but, the way marijuana legislation is going in this country? Whatever Basil Street’s sales are now? Reckon once weed’s legalized, those sales’ll probably double or triple.”
Mitchell laughs. “Yeah,” she says. “Well, this is Austin, on a college campus. I figure a lot of sales are already driven by that.”
She may be right. And it may seem crazy. But this just might be the pizza that you’re looking for.