Over the past decade, the food and beverages industry has started to evolve to more instant gratification with a higher demand for authenticity. Highly skilled chefs are also disappearing by the troves. Alongside, people with the means to afford quality food often lack the time and energy to attain them. Quality restaurants take time and gourmet meals lack energy – two of the things that a majority of people lack outside of their already busy schedules.
In response to the high demand for accessible quality gourmet food, Andy Lin (Founder and CEO) founded Yo-Kai Express—an autonomous restaurant serving delicately prepared meals in 2016. Andy had the vision to combat the late-night dining crisis in the U.S as a majority of restaurants close by 10 pm and people are often left with fast food options. Having pursued Master’s in EE combined with years of experience in the semiconductor sector, Andy has been taking Yo-Kai Express towards unprecedented growth. From designing to manufacturing machines, he is leveraging his avid experience to bring his vision to fruition.
24/7 High-Quality Food Service
The name Yo-Kai Express is inspired by the urban legend ‘Yo-Kai’ a Japanese and Chinese word for ‘spirit’, a mythical creature of whom can pop up anywhere at anytime. The midnight dinner service provided by the restaurant shows the same spirit – showing up anywhere and anytime. Yo-Kai’s services are catered to the customer’s unique schedule and are available 24/7.
The restaurant has created a unique kiosk that incorporates its patented core cooking technology with robotics, IoT, and AI to precisely cook a fresh meal in 60 seconds. Yo-Kai Express does not offer convenience at the expense of taste and provides uncompromised quality of food. Thus, it has integrated the talents of its Michelin Chef into creating its recipes and ever-expanding menu – that includes some exclusive dishes such as Tonkotsu Ramen, Shrimp Tempura Udon, Vegan Udon, Chicken Pho, etc.
Andy adds that the rise of plant-based meat demands has brought new vegan and vegetarian customers. Heeding to this, Yo-Kai Express has planned to launch its plant-based meat products shortly along with its existing vegetarian products. Being the CEO and Founder, Andy’s primary role is to push innovation to its breaking point daily. He asserts, “Since we are a startup company, we all wear multiple hats, from fundraising, marketing, sales, and design; we all do it collaboratively.”
Ensuring Client Satisfaction
Alongside offering unique services, client satisfaction is one of the pillars for a business to grow. The F&B industry, in particular, has witnessed changing client demands and likings. Thus, Andy and his team emphasize customer satisfaction and retention. “Our clients tend to sing the same tune of ‘I love it!’ We hear this repeatedly and are very thankful for this affirmation,” says Andy. Yo-Kai Express strives to provide the clients with the best possible experience by eliminating food waste and expensive food delivery charges. The restaurant also eliminates the worry of food shortages. “Having our machines on demand on-site, they haven’t had the need to order extra food,’ adds Andy.
Unparalleled Service during the Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic had severe impacts on businesses across the globe. Adapting to the new norms, businesses had to alter their strategies accordingly to survive in the competition. Andy believes that pandemic negatively impacted the F&B industry. “With so many restaurants closing permanently, we are doing all that we can to offer assistance to those once thriving restaurants by joining our Yo-Kai restaurant platform,” he added.
However, as the uncertainty and the need for good food options is on the rise, Yo-Kai Express is receiving more inbound requests for its contactless machines to be placed in their business sectors. As the solutions are compact and easily movable, Yo-Kai’s concept was validated by the Fortune 500 companies. It served as the only hot food source at their facilities to serve their essential workers. Andy further added that Yo-Kai Express is collaborating with numerous celebrated chefs and restaurants in bringing their signature menu items to its platform. He believes that this provides income for these restaurants in an innovative way and brand awareness for some that are more of local favorites by taking them mainstream.
Expanding the Footprint
“We have quickly shifted during the sudden mandatory SIP from selling our meals from our machines to also offer home meal kits delivered to customers’ door,” says Andy. Due to its increasing popularity, Yo-Kai is shipping to all 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii. During SIP, it worked on taking its home delivery meal kits to the next level with the introduction of its first smart home cooking appliance ‘Takumi’ which is set to be launched at CES 2021. Andy adds that this home appliance uses some of Yo-Kai’s patented core cooking technologies and is of the size of a coffee machine. He aims to present Takumi as the Keurig or Nespresso of meal bowls.
Creating New Opportunities
Andy believes that the F&B industry will thrive in the years to come. With an increasing number of autonomous kiosks in the horizon, Yo-Kai Express will be leading the way. Andy further states that this may seem as if Yo-Kai is eliminating jobs, however, it is creating more jobs with its food manufacturing worldwide. “We still need staff to produce our delicious bowls, maintain and restock our machines which also creates more opportunity for people,” he adds.
Alongside his prowess as a leader in the industry, Andy is also an avid reader. When asked for a book recommendation, he suggested ‘Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography’ to those who are aspiring to become successful entrepreneurs.
Read Full issue: The 10 Prominent Food and Beverage Leaders to Look for in 2021