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U-Fry Chinese Cafe at 4821 E. Butler Ave. will have a soft opening Saturday. It features an automated kitchen that uses IoT (Internet of Things) technology. Photo by Edward Smith

published on February 12, 2021 - 4:38 PM
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If one has ever thought of automation in the food industry, it might be a robot arm flipping burgers or topping a pizza, but one entrepreneur is bringing robotics and IoT (Internet of Things) to authentic Chinese food in Fresno.

U-Fry Chinese Cafe at 4821 E. Butler Ave. will be Tony Pan’s first restaurant.

While new to the business, his career in engineering familiarized him with problems facing mom-and-pop businesses. Using his engineering background, Pan is opening his Chinese restaurant this month using machines and methods he designed to bring efficiency and consistency to an industry beset by intensive labor requirements and personnel turnover.

“You’re still going to see the connection between traditional Chinese food and our menu because we cannot walk too far away from that, but we are bringing a new element,” Pan said.

Pan will use recipes originating from five different regions of China. He wants the food to be something you might find while touring there, but also something recognizable to people here.

He is currently developing the menu and what he’s tried so far, people have liked, he said.

As they begin to standardize the processes, Pan will start implementing IoT technology to streamline them. He’s secretive about the details, but he’s been working on them for a while. Machines will do some degree of cooking, and this will allow him to train anyone to cook chef-quality meals consistently. He says he already has the technology — it’s just a matter of perfecting it and applying it to the food industry.

“I started a few years ago working on the concept to really change especially how the Chinese restaurant does its business,” Pan said.

Pan has worked with a lot of restaurants in his time. Many Chinese restaurants are family-owned and the owners work long hours, he says. In addition, line cooks and chefs come and go. With that churn, food quality changes. Rising labor costs are also top of mind for many business owners.

Pan chose Fresno because he wanted to be close to college students. He located here from Irvine. Pan said he looked around the country for a place to put his new restaurant. Alex Stumpf with Stumpf and Co. helped him find the location near Fresno Pacific University.

The restaurant is still in its early stages, Pan says. He has a soft opening planned Saturday. He hopes to have a grand opening this month.

Pan says automation is already coming to the fast-food industry. There are restaurants in Phoenix and Boston that are employing automation as well. He says the kind of technology he is using is essential to bring the cost down and standardize the process.

“The fast food industry needs this technology,” Pan said.

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