At first look, the new Robo Esso espresso bar in Golden looks like a typical coffee spot. There’s a wall menu with familiar drinks, a large espresso machine and even the requisite wood paneling and …
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At first look, the new Robo Esso espresso bar in Golden looks like a typical coffee spot.
There’s a wall menu with familiar drinks, a large espresso machine and even the requisite wood paneling and plants that together cultivate a classically-chill café vibe.
What’s neither classic nor typical, however, and ultimately very hard to overlook is the giant robot arm, which looks like it may have escaped from an old arcade game only to end up on the counter where one might expect the cash register to be.
Things really get interesting when you place an order on the shop’s tablet and the arm whirs to life, pressing buttons, pouring flavoring and steaming milk (yes really) to concoct your order, which is deposited in a small window in about a minute-and-a-half.
It’s a futuristic way of making coffee, but one that owner and entrepreneur Matthew Jones says has become a fit for a present where coffee shops are faced with increasingly complex challenges such as steep competition, high wage costs and, now, COVID-19.
“Our philosophy is kind of if the robot can do it let the robot do it and save time and money to kind of go into the recipe and making a better product,” said Jones. “The idea is to make the product just like a human would.”
Jones is no stranger to the coffee business. He previously operated a coffee roasting company called Buffawhale Coffee & Tea in Robo Esso’s Golden space as well as a coffee shop of the same name in a casino in Black Hawk.
The company did good business selling its roast to hotels and ski resorts but the luxury nature of the product meant it was also one of the first things on the chopping block when COVID-19 hit.
“I had a choice of reinventing who our customers were and that whole business model or going all in on the robots,” said Jones, who had already been messing around with a robot that he hoped could help a barista in the shop.
He decided to go with the latter option, but scrapped the model he had been working on in favor of one that could autonomously complete all the steps of making each drink on the menu.
That was important not only because it would eliminate the need for a paid barista but also because it would give customers access to a contactless cup of joe at a time when so many are looking for exactly that.
Now, Jones is hoping to expand the concept to other locations around the Denver metro area, although he’s careful to say that his goal is definitely not to take out your favorite corner café.
“This is for more of those grab-and-go `I’m in mall or I’m in an airport or a hospital’ and this is a convenient way to get a cup of coffee,” he said.
But while it may never replace the friendliness of your favorite barista, Jones said he his concept could be a serious boost to mom and pop coffee shops. Such shops, he said, typically need to sell at least 200 drinks a day to make a profit, a tall order for many.
“We’re bringing that labor cost down pretty drastically so that you can offer premium quality products at pretty low prices because most of the cost is going to the product,” said Jones, who notes each location will still require about two hours of labor a day to complete stocking, cleaning and other tasks.
A look at Google reviews of the month-old shop suggests the concept is already catching on with some.
“Awesome coffee, a knowledgeable barista and a robot barista,” wrote Aaron Monroe. “What’s not to love?”
Online reviewer Jurassic Dad, meanwhile, made this simple observation: “(It) was a very tasty cup from the future.”
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