During a trip to Japan two years ago, Adam Weisberg was invigorated by the “spectacular, incredible energy” of Tokyo, especially that of the electric-pop neighborhood, Shibuya. It was there that he found the inspiration to open Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen in Austin, a new restaurant with a high-energy bent.
“I really wanted to bring the ‘Tokyo way’ to Austin,” Weisberg, also founder of healthy fast food staple Zen, explains. “When you walk in our doors, I wanted it to be fun and based on a unique [Japanese] experience."
What you’ll see when you walk through Lucky Robot’s South Congress doors is a space specially designed in collaboration with Veronica Koltuniak (also behind the design of Easy Tiger and 24 Diner), including neon lights, colorful PVC pipes, a swing hanging from the wall, and tables full of... iPads.
Standing out even more than the design is the fact that when guests are seated at their table, they are greeted by a server who gives them an overview of how to order their meal, course by course, via the tablet device.
“I really viewed the iPad as this interesting way to communicate our core values and offerings to our guests. . . People will hopefully go outside their comfort zone and break those barriers." - Adam Weisberg
“I really viewed the iPad as this interesting way to communicate our core values and offerings to our guests,” says Weisberg.
“Restaurants can be limited. We knew we wanted to serve some Japanese street food that a lot of people weren't familiar with, and [with the iPad] we get to tell the story of that dish along with beautiful pictures so guests know what it looks like. People will hopefully go outside their comfort zone and break those barriers.” He then adds, “I’m the same way, I shop with my eye.”
So if orders are sent to Lucky Robot’s “ready-fire” kitchen by an iPad, is there any personal component to the Lucky Robot experience? Absolutely, you just dictate the amount of it. “[Servers] are still there to help you as much or as little as you want. It’s no different than a regular place in that everyone is here to be of service to you. You can page your server right there from your iPad.”
But no matter how innovative the concept, Weisberg is aware that, at the end of the day, a restaurant's success is founded upon the quality of its food. At Lucky Robot, everything is prepared fresh, in-house.
Mason Evans serves as the restaurant's chef, cleverly riffing off of popular culinary recipes, like Mexican street corn, in a Japanese fashion. Also a crowd pleaser is the okonomiyaki, Japanese pizza, which is a dish that proliferates the streets of Japan but is hardly familiar in the U.S. And as for the fish? Well, the sashimi topping dishes, like the Green Monster, simply melt in your mouth.
“We are working with one of the best seafood purveyors in town — Louisiana Seafood — and we bring in our fish daily. They do a phenomenal job.”
Though the feedback so far is exceedingly positive, Lucky Robot's iPad system gives guests an opportunity to offer feedback as soon as they pay their bill. "We're getting 50 pieces of feedback a day," says Weisberg. "We get just a few a month between all of our Zen locations. If someone has a bad experience and rates it as such, the iPad immediately pages the server so they can talk about how we didn't get it right and how we can make it better."
With the design, menu and innovative concept established, Lucky Robot now simply seeks participants willing to try a different form of dining in order to get a taste of a dynamic city far, far away.