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October is National Pizza Month. But let’s be honest: With billions of dollars spent by Americans ordering millions of slices — from New York style thin crust to Chicago Deep Dish or Neapolitan to Sicilian — every month can grant itself that title.
We love our pizza, whether we’re dining out or ordering in or even grabbing a frozen favorite and popping it in the oven.
Now a new startup is taking the nation’s favorite cheat meal in a whole new direction: vending machine pizza.
It’s the future of pizza, say the brains behind Basil Street, a pizzamaking startup whose combination of old-school, old-world recipes and 21st century technology can offer and serve a piping-hot, brick-oven-style pizza as tasty if not tastier than your neighborhood pizza joint in just three minutes. Each kiosk is even equipped with single-use pizza cutters.
If it sounds like a different approach to pizza, it’s because it is, even to its chief investor, Deglin Kenealy. He needed convincing at first of the idea that quality pizza can be created consistently out of a vending machine. “I thought it was a stupid idea,” Kenealy admits. “My idea of a vending machine was throwing in your quarters in there, pulling the knob, then your candy bar gets stuck and you have to shake the machine.”
Kenealy is no stranger to putting his backing behind unique startups. As an investor, he once put his support behind a fitness system based on nylon straps — which turned out to be fitness suspension trainer juggernaut TRX. For this idea, however, he began studying overseas success of intelligent vending machine technology, especially in Asia. Some stores, including 7-Eleven, operate vending machine only stores to offset staffing shortages. That’s when Kenealy and his partners began doubling their pizza-making efforts.
But still, the final decision was based on taste — if it tastes like cardboard, who’s going to buy? And one slice of Basil Street’s cheese pizza, and he knew that the pizza creators, Roberto Villani and Davide Garbin, were onto something. However, in order to move forward, he needed confirmation from a younger set of food critics.
“I invested with them because they were making this delicious, gluten-free pizza,” Kenealy says. “It was so good. My kids would literally choose one of these frozen gluten-free pizzas over other brands.
Basil Street uses vine-ripened tomatoes, which contain the vital antioxidant lycopeneAnd since each pie is flash frozen from the company’s automated kitchen, not only do the tomatoes and other vegetable toppings maintain more of its nutrients over a period of time, but not a single hand ever touched any of the pies — a bonus for all germophobes.
Still, Kenealy says it’s hard to classify any pizza as completely healthy — a normal slice of cheese pizza contains nearly 300 calories, 35g of carbs and 10g of fat. But Basil Street continues to work on creating healthier pizza options for its base will be willing to order out of a machine.
Basil Street’s pizza heating technology is similar, Kenealy says, to a brick oven cooking style. In this case, the heating surface come in direct contact with the dough, while a domelike contraption helps heat the rest evenly. While it’s hard to explain in layman’s terms, Its system can self-regulate its pizza cooking temps based on toppings and locations. In other words, your pizza will never be over- or undercooked.
He hopes to soon take a bite of the profitable pizza industry. With over three billion slices eaten each year, restaurant pizza sales account for $42 billion each year, while frozen pizza sales account for another $6 billion, according to statistic gurus Statista.
Basil Street’s vending machines, which began operations in 2020, are currently being rolled out in locations including Austin, TX, and Denver, CO. Kenealy hopes to quickly tap into the pizza market by expand throughout airports across the country and college campuses.
“It’s been a long road, but I think we’ve gone from what was once a really dumb idea to now what I think has the potential to be a multi billion-dollar industry,” he says.