Chowbotics Salad Station

Salad Station installed its first salad making robot created by Silicon Valley technology startup Chowbotics earlier this year at North Oaks Medical Center.

Local restaurant chain Salad Station is expanding into new markets as it installs salad making robots inside several hospitals across Louisiana and one university in the coming weeks.

Hammond-based Salad Station, founded in 2012, installed its first salad making robot created by Silicon Valley technology startup Chowbotics earlier this year at North Oaks Medical Center.

The robot, nicknamed Sally, can dispense up to nearly two dozen prechopped food items for salads in about 9 seconds. The machine can serve up to 40 salads each time it's filled, and the Salad Station often refills the machine twice a day. The robots cost between $35,000 to $40,000, so it’s a multimillion investment by the company.

This week Salad Station is installing a robot inside Ochsner Medical Center’s main campus in New Orleans. Over the next few weeks, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, OLOL Children’s Hospital, Baton Rouge General and Lafayette General Medical Center are slated to have the robots installed in their cafeterias. Southeastern Louisiana University will be the first university with a new Salad Station robot.

There will be 36 salad making machines in Louisiana this year and another two dozen added next year. In Houston alone, the Salad Station expects its franchisees to operate 100 machines in the coming months.

At first glance, Scott Henderson, chief executive officer of Salad Station, thought the robot was a competitor to the business model. But he decided it was a way to leverage technology and expand to new markets.

“I realized that this could be an extension of our business model and allow our franchisees to move into hospitals, airports and universities,” he said. “We’re hoping to get into the New Orleans airport.”

Henderson said the robots could enable the business to expand more quickly to other states.

But it won’t likely replace the stand alone restaurants anytime soon, because each Salad Station location has more than 150 different ingredients and can serve up to about 300 customers each day — most of whom visit during lunch.

The Salad Station to open two Baton Rouge restaurants in next two months

“We’re creating two to three jobs for every robot, it’s not a job that we’re taking from our restaurants,” Henderson said. 

Henderson met the founder of Chowbotics at an industry conference several years ago and watched the startup develop before inking a deal giving Salad Station an exclusive license.

The second generation version of the robot, which is being installed at Salad Stations, has a bigger screen on the front of the kiosk and the ability to handle fruit, vegetables and yogurt.

Deepak Sekar, founder and president of Chowbotics, said he expected the robots to replace workers in fast-casual restaurants, but more often the robots are put in places where fresh food is traditionally inaccessible — especially in airports and hospitals. It’s often used by employees working the night shift.

“So many nurses have come to me and thanked me for saving them from vending machines,” Sekar said.

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Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.