Kernel: Robot Arms and Veggie Burgers
Image Credit - Kernel, Instagram
17 February, 2024

Kernel: Robot Arms and Veggie Burgers

When Chipotle first launched in the 90’s, it pioneered a new style of quick service dining. Unlike old fast food chains, you could watch staff make your food fresh with real, homemade-looking ingredients. It was the total opposite of McDonald's and inspired copycats all over.

Now the Chipotle founder Steve Ells aims to change fast food again with Kernel, his new plant-based eatery. Kernel just opened its first location in Manhattan, with a bunch more coming across the country thanks to over $36 million in funding.

Kernel's vibe diverges from Chipotle's friendly service model. There is minimal human interaction - you order online and scan a QR code for pickup. Staff simply direct you through the largely automated experience. Due to online-only ordering, your food won't be ready right after ordering. Kernel provides designated pickup times, so you gotta plan ahead.

However, the menu crafted by an Eleven Madison Park chef look promising. In Kernel's kitchen, a robot arm grabs prefried soy "chicken" and slides it over to add the bun. The plant-based fried "chicken" sandwich stars crunchy soy cutlets and pickles between pillowy brioche.

For me, the veggie burger is the highlight. It blends sweet potato, quinoa, legumes, mushrooms and more into a moisty patty seasoned with garlic, chili and marmite for flavor. The pickled onions add some zing and avocado salsa verde kicks things up, all between soft buns. This one doesn't mimic beef - it tastes amazing on its own terms, with a satisfying mush that bests many crumbly veggie burgers.

If Kernel can optimize operations as it scales, its tech-focused style could transform grab-and-go dining. Relying on machines instead of people, it uses efficiency and innovation to transform quick eats again. With tasty salads, bowls and reinvented fast food classics like that primo veggie burger, Kernel's fresh take aims to again change on-the-go meals.