Boichik Bagels customers already know that owner Emily Winston is passionate about bagels. But what they may not know is that she is also interested in robots. Before Winston became a darling of the West Coast bagel world, she earned her mechanical engineering degree at Cornell University and her first job after college was at General Motors. Now she’s bringing the two fields together with the creation of what she calls BakerBot, a production line and robot that will help produce bagels at her upcoming Berkeley bagel factory. “For me, the quality of the product is the most important thing,” says Winston. “And if the machines just make it easier to access and don’t degrade quality, I’m all for it.”
BakerBot is set to be the centerpiece of Boichik Bagels’ factory, showcased behind a huge window – “front and center,” says Winston. The robot is the result of a year-long collaboration with the Livermore-based company, BakTek, which specializes in manufacturing bakery equipment, including, yes, bagel lines. by Winston BakerBot is on view this week at International Trade Fair for the Bakery Industry in Las Vegas, where he is already turning heads.
If you’re wondering how a robot and automation will change things at Boichik, you might be surprised by this news: if you weren’t already aware, to some degree, you’ve already had a Boichik bagel. mass-produced, made via a machine Winston calls “Bagel Robot 1.0” that is already in use in the shop. It’s a line of “retail-sized” bagels, says Winston; its bakers cut pieces of dough and feed them into the machine’s hopper, which then distributes and rolls the dough into a bagel at a rate of one bagel per second. A second baker then removes the bagels from the line and places them on a board – i love lucy at the chocolate factory, Winston says — before adding it to a baking rack.
With BakerBot, Winston’s new $500,000 machine, the process is much more complicated. At the start, a large mixing bowl containing 100 pounds of dough will be hoisted seven feet into the air, before dropping the dough into a large hopper that will divide, cut and roll the dough into bagels. From there, a pattern maker will place the bagels on a cornmeal-dusted board, arranged in a pattern ideal for baking, and then spit out the board. A robot arm will grab the tray full of dough and move it onto the rack. Top speed is 12,000 bagels an hour — or “much faster than anyone can catch them,” says Winston. If that sounds like anything akin to grocery store-level bagel production lines, it kinda does, but Winston says BakTek adapts its bagel makers to a “medium artisan quality bagel setup” suitable for his company. To be clear though, Winston says the cooking part of the process will remain the same, without automation.
Already, Winston has started answering questions about why she wants to go down an automated, robotic path with her bagels. Although many bakers prefer to roll out their dough by hand, Winston knows that this road is paved with injuries. Before she opened her shop and still operated as a pop-up, Winston says she very quickly started having carpal tunnel issues due to rolling out a large volume of bagels. Beyond physical issues, a team’s rollout of bagels can also result in inconsistent bagels; Plus, making bagels is a hard-to-find specific skill set, Winston adds. And that doesn’t mean Boichik’s new bagel factory won’t have human jobs. Conservatively, she assumes the new space will employ 30 people, but could perhaps swell up to 50 positions.
The new Boichik Bagels factory is set to open in February 2023 with BakerBot at its center, and Winston is thrilled, saying the line and robotics will be really cool to watch. “It’s one of the myths that New York has perpetuated that hand rolling makes the bagel better, but the H&H bagel was never hand rolled, and neither was mine,” Winston says. “We’ve been using our Bagel Robot 1.0 since it opened, so it makes a great bagel.”