Meet the Man Who's Bringing Automated Fast Food to the Masses
In January 2014, a mysterious orange box appeared inside a West Hollywood, Calif., gas station, and the internet exploded with joy. It was the first coming of BurritoBox, a vending machine that promised hot, cheap, tortilla-wrapped meats and cheeses. Soon Jimmy Kimmel and Chelsea Handler were riffing on it. “Those were the darkest days of my life,” says Denis Koci. He’d spent five years (and all his money) tinkering with the machine and felt BurritoBox wasn’t ready for all this attention. So he kept quiet, rejecting the many customers who called. But now he’s ready. His BurritoBox 2.0 offers burritos, all the fixins’ and hot tortilla chips. And he’s franchising the concept in 15 cities across the U.S. over the next year.
Obvious question: Why?
I’m a big fan of Star Trek, and the replicator -- which they use to make food -- is stamped in my brain. I was working in real estate and was in a great place financially, so I thought, Why don’t I try to make something like that? How can you go wrong with a hot-food vending machine? My first concept was PizzaBox, but I’m a perfectionist, and it needed more development. I thought it might work with other foods, though, and burritos were getting big.
Vending machines seem unreliable. How is yours different?
I actually hate the words vending machine. We consider this automated fast food. And our newest machines have live video chat, so a customer can contact us directly if they have questions or problems. If there’s a malfunction, we can see inside the machines and move the motors and close the interior doors. We can fix more than 90 percent of problems remotely.
Are you pitching “automated fast food” as something better than traditional fast food?
The fast food industry really created a space for guys like me. They’ve been cost cutting for 30 or 40 years and reducing quality. Most fast food restaurants make everything off-site, and the food has that factory smell and is shipped frozen, and then it gets heated up in a restaurant. Well, we get rid of that expensive front end -- the restaurant. There’s no one screwing up orders and no complicated system. An entire restaurant plugs into the wall.
These are burritos for drunk people, right?
No way. We make a phenomenal product. We restock the machines every one or two days, so everything is fresh. Our chips are made fresh in San Diego. With our machine, you get the same quality you get out of fast-casual restaurants, but 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our machine doesn’t actually make the burrito -- it just heats it up.
Our products are all made in a private-label facility. We have chipotle chicken and black bean, grilled steak and cheese, as well as a couple breakfast burritos. We use basmati rice and fresh cilantro, and we marinate our meat for 24 hours before cooking it on real grills. Using a private-label company is a lot more expensive than just buying premade burritos, but we have a great partnership with a company that’s looking to grow along with us.