PepsiCo and Xinova behind new Seattle restaurant tech startup that aims to digitize ‘back of house’

(BigStock Photo)

From food delivery to point of sale to reservation systems, there has been plenty of innovation over the past several years around the beginning and end of a dining experience. But the same can’t be said for “back of house” processes — and that’s why the folks behind Souszen are excited.

Souszen CEO Stephen King. (Souszen Photo)

The new Seattle startup recently came out of stealth mode and revealed its plans to automate the commercial kitchen. The company originally began as a research project inside Xinova, the Seattle-based “invention network” that spun out of Intellectual Ventures in 2016. Food and beverage giant PepsiCo wanted to find a way to expand its reach into new markets and partnered with Xinova and Silicon Valley startup Innit on an idea to build kitchen software for restaurants.

That eventually led to the creation of Souszen. Stephen King, a serial entrepreneur and tech industry vet who also runs a restaurant, was brought on as CEO in January.

Souszen aims to digitize food preparation and uncover data insights to help restaurants with inventory management, recipe creation, and more. It’s designed to serve as the “ubiquitous control layer that automates kitchen management.”

“We can bring a level of automation and management for restaurants,” King told GeekWire.

Souszen is currently working on a pilot with PepsiCo — an investor in the company — to provide its software at 30 locations for Tosticentro, a PepsiCo-created brand in Mexico.

“The software allows every location to purchase more freshly, to deliver more creatively, and to deliver more to the local environment — which is the failing of the franchise model,” King said.

(Souszen Image)

King said Souszen can help restaurant owners and operators “become better entrepreneurs,” while providing an investor such as PepsiCo valuable data about trends that might predict the next big flavor of potato chips, for example.

“Pepsi is frankly more interested in ingredient trends than they are about dollars and cents,” King said.

Paul Levins, Xinova co-founder who is now head of Asia Pacific and business development at Souszen. (Souszen Photo)

The longer-term vision for Souszen is to help restaurant employees prepare orders, with guided recipes and high-tech connected kitchen equipment.

There are a flurry of companies aiming to disrupt how restaurants make, sell, and deliver food in an industry expected to grow to $863 billion this year, according to the National Restaurant Association. Other “back of house” startups range from Picnic, the Seattle startup that unveiled its pizza-making robot earlier this month, to Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick’s Cloud Kitchens, a shared kitchen operator riding the wave of increased meal delivery orders.

King said Souszen can be a “great partner” for those types of companies, in addition to large-scale commercial kitchens.

“Whether it’s robots or humans in the kitchen, you still need to be doing sequencing, scheduling, timing, and tracking — our system can help,” he noted.

Souszen has raised $500,000 to date. The company has less than 10 employees, including Paul Levins, co-founder of Xinova who is now head of Asia Pacific and business development at Souszen. Another Xinova connection is David Kraft, global head of innovation services at Xinova who sits on the company’s board. Renowned chef Mark Miller is an advisor.

“Ultimately, everyone wins,” Kraft said in a statement. “Diners will have local access to tastier options on dynamic menus that keep up with shifting food trends. Restaurants streamline their kitchen operations and reduce labor costs to improve their bottom line. The platform is a rising tide that lifts all kitchens.”

Xinova, a Souszen investor, went through a round of layoffs in August. The company operates a network of more than 12,000 inventors across 118 countries.

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