Update: Eatsa is scheduled to open its Washington location on K Street NW on Nov. 29.
Original post: Are you the kind of person who watches "Star Trek: The Next Generation" reruns and longingly murmurs "if only" every time Captain Picard orders "tea, Earl Grey, hot" from the replicator?
If so, Eatsa may be the place for you.
The automated fast-casual restaurant that specializes in customized quinoa bowls has announced plans to open in downtown Washington this fall, after building a portfolio of four locations in California starting last year.
Here's how it works: Diners place their orders via a mobile app or at an in-store iPad. They move to another area of the store, where a screen stretched across the wall displays names of those waiting for food.
Depending on the time of day, orders can be ready in anywhere from 90 seconds to three or four minutes. When it's ready, a number shows up next to your name, which corresponds to one of about 30 glass cubbies. The cubbies, fronted by a kind of transparent LCD screen, will also display your name and a fun little animation. Double tap the screen, and the box slides open. "The cubby is this magical little box where you pick up your food," said Eatsa co-founder Scott Drummond.
Magic, eh? Pressed for details on how exactly the whole thing works, Drummond demurred on revealing too many secrets. He did say that while some advance prep work is done on ingredients, bowls -- you start with one of the restaurant's creations then tweak it to suit your taste -- are made to order. Some of the process is automated, he said.
The only employee you'll likely encounter is a red-shirted "concierge," who's available to help with customers as needed.
The streamlined operation is one reason why Eatsa can keep the price of food relatively low. Lunch and dinner bowls are $6.95, and each offers a different global twist. Examples: a Southwestern-inspired kale salad with jicama, tortilla strips and roasted jalapeño-ranch dressing; the Spice Market bowl with corn curry, saag paneer and tandoori tofu; and the Mediterranean bowl with pita chips, feta, tomato and cucumber. Savory breakfast options ($3.95) include a Southwestern Scramble burrito bowl with eggs, salsa and guacamole, as well as a Goat Cheese and Veggie bowl with a chimichurri sauce.
Drummond said the go-go-go nature of the nation's capital made it an ideal location for Eatsa's first East Coast shop. "We understand the pace in Washington, and people are eating at their desks a lot," he said. The goal is to tap into the desire not only for speed and technology, but also as a healthful option that's driven by what customers want.
"We're kind of hitting this other need set, which is control," he said. "Food at the touch of a button."
Eatsa, 1627 K St. NW. Opening this fall.