The techification of dining continues: On Wednesday, a new place being billed as a “virtual food hall” is opening in Flatiron — a business called Sous Vide Kitchen where people order from different vendors at one digital kiosk. Nearly everything, as the name suggests, is cooked with the sous vide method.
It’s an ordering style that’s already being employed in airports across the country, where people can pick from a range of options on iPads. It’s also similar to cafeterias across NYC or even on college campuses, where people can pick up food from a slew of vendors that share a single cashier.
Sous Vide Kitchen, located at 119 East 23rd St. between Park and Lexington avenues, was indeed inspired by these other things, says Alexis Depietro, director of operations for the business. A restaurants operations consulting group called JBH Advisory Group is the major stakeholder behind Sous Vide Kitchen, and the idea grew out of taking tons of different trends in the industry and putting them in one place.
Here, people can browse — and pay for — the options via four different self-service screens, hence the high tech name of “virtual food hall.” Despite the name, human employees make the food via an assembly line similar to other fast-casual restaurants, with options like brisket sandwiches, Mediterranean fare like baba ganoush, Latin cuisine, ban mi sandwiches, and salads. And diners can still sit inside the space, which spans 2,600-square-feet and has room for 50.
JBH’s pitch is that it’s a marked operational change from other food halls: “There’s really not another food hall where you can get various types of food, entirely different menus, but you don’t really have to wait in separate lines,” Depietro says. “We think we’re really revolutionizing that aspect of it.”
Chances are, this won’t to be a huge destination for the food-obsessed. Unlike other trendy new food halls, the primary vendors here have no major names attached to them; people from JBH manage all of the “concepts.” One of the restaurants, a Vietnamese fast-casual restaurant called BONmi, is the only to have a brick-and-mortar prior to the opening of Sous Vide Kitchen. The others, like Eso Latin, were delivery-only restaurants, another big trend in the restaurant tech world (and one that’s had questionable success).
But whether or not the food itself is worth traveling for, Sous Vide Kitchen is certainly a development in the way that restaurants are trying to use tech and slim down on labor. More fast-casual restaurants are considering eliminating cashiers in part to decrease time in line and in part to cut costs, and this seems to take it to another level. Still, it has not been a perfect ride: After introducing cashless-only kiosks, Shake Shack for example ended the practice when customers demanded to pay instead with cash.
Sous Vide Kitchen opens on Wednesday. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.