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MIRAMAR BEACH — Cosmo’s Robo Diner, a new addition to the Baytowne Wharf dining and entertainment complex at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, combines two of owner Alex Ou’s professional interests — food service and robotics.
Ou immigrated to the United States from China 17 years ago, and after getting tired of corporate life in the Northeast, headed south five years ago. Shortly thereafter, he opened the Frozen Dune Rolled Ice Cream & Coffee shop on Scenic Gulf Drive, specializing in Asian-inspired rolled ice cream and smoothies.
“I wanted to start my own business,” Ou said.
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Also after arriving in Northwest Florida, Ou — who described himself in a recent interview at Cosmo’s Robo Diner by saying “my personality is very much curiosity” — got involved with China-headquartered Pudu Robotics, a manufacturer of robots that specialize in delivery functions.
Ou, who works with Pudu Robotics as a sales manager, got curious about whether robots could find a place in a restaurant setting.
Cosmo’s Robo Diner, at 142 Fisherman’s Cove at Baytowne Wharf, is the result of that curiosity. The restaurant, which opened March 25, offers an array of burgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, a fish sandwich, a salad — and in a nod to Ou’s Asian heritage, a range of Boba teas in addition to traditional fountain drinks.
The restaurant also features two Pudu robots.
But their function is not to replace human workers, Ou stressed.
Cosmo’s Robo Diner still has wait staff to attend to customers’ needs — taking orders, handling payments and doing other work — as the robots shuttle back and forth between the kitchen and the indoor dining area to bring food to customers.
The rationale for using the robots, Ou explained, is to allow the restaurant’s human staff to have more time to interact with customers, thus creating a personal dining experience for them.
After an order is loaded onto a robot’s tray in the kitchen, it follows a preprogrammed path to the correct table.
In addition to the preprogramming, each robot is equipped with radar.
“It’s not going to hit you — or your kids,” Ou stressed.
Diners have 20 seconds to remove their order before their robot automatically heads back to a spot by the front door near the kitchen to wait for a new order to be loaded for delivery.
The two robots at Cosmo’s Robo Diner are all he needs to serve the restaurant’s entire indoor space, Ou said.
During a recent lunchtime, one of those deliveries went to a table filled with a group of teenage boys.
“This is sick!” one of the boys exclaimed, using a popular slang term for something that is cool, or awesome, or similarly out of the ordinary. And as it turns out, the young men came to Cosmo’s Robo Diner on its first day in business and have returned regularly.
And why is that?
“Because of the robots!” one of them said.
The robots can do more than deliver food. A video screen allows them to display the day’s specials and other information, and they can even be programmed to sing “Happy Birthday” to customers celebrating their special day.
“A lot of kids really like it,” Ou said.
And while Ou also enjoys the success of the robots and of Cosmo’s Robo Diner, his curiosity already has him pondering his next restaurant venture.
What he’s thinking about now is introducing authentic Asian cuisine to the area. He’s not yet clear on exactly what he might serve, but stressed that it will be more than just what is seen in this country as traditional Chinese fare.
In the meantime, Cosmo’s Robo Diner, open from 11 am to 9 pm seven days a week, will continue to serve its burger joint offerings, with a side of technology.