The "Kitchen of the Future" with Nikolas Bullwinkel, CEO and Co-Founder Circus
Co-founder of hyper-local food delivery unicorn Flink speaks about his past and his latest venture in Circus.
Nikolas Bullwinkel is co-founder and CEO of food delivery startup Circus. Based in Hamburg, the venture launched in May 2022 and has set as its mission nothing short of creating what it calls the "Kitchen of the future." While that sounds ambitious, Nikolas is no stranger to scaling up paradigm-shifting companies after co-founding Flink with Oliver Merkel in 2020. In this episode of the OMR Podcast, Nikolas spoke about his plans to redefine kitchens, incorporating AI into the back of the house and why he left Flink.
"Lots of junk"
The genesis of Circus starts with an observation that led to a question that led to an idea. Two years ago, Nikolas Bullwinkel, CEO and co-founder of Circus, was looking at the food-delivery market and saw that the majority of food offered on platforms was junk food. "A lot of pizzas, a lot of burgers—medium quality food," Nikolas says in the latest episode of the OMR Podcast. "Why is that? It's not true that people only want to eat junk food." Deeper inspection led Nikolas into the kitchen and to a realization. "Kitchens, how they are built today, are not built efficiently. They sacrifice food quality to maintain their inefficient manual operations."
In that inefficiency was a golden opportunity—"to build a new kitchen concept so that the output for the consumer is better, more affordable and offers a higher quality." If you've never set foot in a kitchen, the late, great Anthony Bourdain likened professional cooks to a submarine crew, "chefs, dishwashers, prep dones, line cooks and sous-chefs [...] are confined for most of their waking hours in hot, airless spaces, and ruled by despotic leaders." Even less flattering was the lack of attention paid to food safety. "When a kitchen is in full swing, proper refrigeration is almost nonexistent [...] cooks rummage frantically during the rush, mingling your tuna with the chicken, the lamb, or the beef."
"Standard for every type of dish"
Those kitchen ineffciencies have basically remained unchanged for millennia, so changing them not only requires ambition and audacity, but also a great deal of foresight, insight and effort. "We go through one iteration a month. We've changed the concept multiple times, really trying to figure out what the best way is to build something that is standardized and itemized for every type of dish." With Nikolas' and Circus' intention to not be a specialized kitchen they need processes in place for every imaginable type of dish. "We're offering everything from curries to pasta bowls, so we don't really have this one process we can use.
By hyper-streamlining efficiency in the kitchen, Nikolas says that Circus is able to pass along savings to consumers. "One of the most interesting USPs for us is cost. Main dishes start at roughly EUR 5—mainly due to our kitchen set-up, with minimal fixed costs compared to regular kitchen setups." That regular kitchen setup usually entails high rent costs for the location, food costs—which typically balloon due to food waste—and labor costs. "With the micro kitchen model, we don't need a (dining) room. By incorporating tech in the kitchen, we can reduce food waste and more effectively train our cooks."
Check out the full episode to hear Nikolas' plans for a fleet of robots in the kitchen, his time at Flink, overcoming the current labor shortage and what other ways tech and AI are poised to transform Circus into a ringleader in the food-delivery game.