At Eatsa, Mealtime Gets Automated

December 11, 2016 2:45 pm Last Updated: March 8, 2018 5:23 pm

“The future is here,” said Scott Drummond, the co-founder of Eatsa, a new automated eatery near Grand Central Station. Eatsa has a handful of locations altogether in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Berkeley, and opened its first New York location on Dec. 1.

At the back of the eatery, I stood looking up at a display, much like an airport departures screen with gate numbers. On the screen, my first name appeared and next to it, a cubby number: number 9.

At the back, there were 20 small cubbies with glass doors that doubled as digital screens. The screen on cubby 9 shifted into theatrical mode. It went dark, then showed the image of a curtain to offer just a peek. A few seconds later, instructions invited me to double tap the screen. I did, and the door lifted. Inside a nondescript box was the order I’d placed at an iPad kiosk a few minutes earlier.

(Paul Wagtouicz)
(Paul Wagtouicz)

I asked Drummond if robots were also involved in the making of the food. He said he could not deny or verify this.

There are some visible humans—”concierges,” who assist new users with their orders and ensure that all is running smoothly.

Drummond said he wanted to be able to offer fresh, wholesome food without the premium price that lunch spots can sometimes command. Eatsa’s bowls, which come with a quinoa base (different types are available), start at $6.95. You can customize your own from a selection of 78 ingredients, or you can choose from many different globally inspired options. Examples are the Toscana (basil pesto, roasted cauliflower, Parmesan, minestrone, pumpkin seeds, roasted winter squash, roasted roots, parsley, warm lemon-herb toasted quinoa, and fried spaghetti) and the Bento Bowl (miso portobello, stir-fried quinoa, apple-cabbage slaw, edamame, crispy wontons, and teriyaki sauce).

(Paul Wagtouicz)
(Paul Wagtouicz)

Beverages include tea, coffee, and house-made sparkling sodas. The orders are packaged for easy take-out, but there are a few seats available.

Eatsa also offers an ordering app, which lets users enter a time for pickup and be notified of the cubby number on their cell phone. No word if the food self-destructs if you’re delayed in picking it up.

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

285 Madison Ave. (between 40th & 41st streets)