“Powered by AI” is the tagline of San Francisco’s new smoothie spot, Better Blends, but there are two humans behind the mid-Market frozen beverage bar, co-founders Michael Parlato and Clayton Reynolds.
This is how it works: You scan a QR code when you enter the store, and a site with a series of prompts pops up on your phone. You can select general themes like “healthy” and “post-workout” or create a custom blend by specifying ingredients, sweetness, allergens and diet types.
The interface reads “blending” while it thinks, and within moments your suggested formula pops up, a recipe generated by AI. It’s a custom menu generated by the consumer: “bespoke AI nutrition,” as the business advertises.
“It uncovered that I like turmeric,” said a surprised customer Wednesday afternoon.
There’s also an influencer aspect, since customers end up adding their recipes directly to the menu, and you can see—and select—other patrons’ customized blends (a recipe called “Mango Madness” has become a big hit).
While rumors of AI takeovers have been making headlines and stoking fears, the vision of a tech dystopia feels far away in the shop, cheerfully adorned with colorful posters and houseplants.
“We want to part the noise,” Parlato said. “This is a real application to solve a challenge.”
The co-founders also say they are trying to address what they call “the boba tea problem,” the seemingly endless array of customizations and preferences that can become paralyzing during the ordering process. The AI solves this problem by making the decisions for you.
“There’s a lot of value in just saying, ‘This is what you should order,’” Parlato said.
He added that the neighborhood seems appreciative.
“The welcome has been phenomenal,” Reynolds said. “People really like the idea of us betting on San Francisco.”
Parlato and Reynolds previously worked at Local Kitchens, a food technology start-up.
The new shop leans into the robot theme—the website depicts a robot mixing up a smoothie—even though it's actual humans who are loading up the high-powered Vitamix blenders with frozen bananas and non-dairy milk.
“It was really just a provocative interpretation,” Parlato said. Fear not the coming of the smoothie, made by an eager duo, smiling in their pink shirts.
So are the robots taking over? No—unless you count oat milk as a harbinger of the AI apocalypse.