Weeks after opening what he thinks is Australia’s first fully-automated takeaway restaurant, Jacob Beye’s sales are beyond expectations.
But the hype around the fact his healthy fastfood shop Hey Zeus has no front-of-house staff – zero, zip, zilch! - has been most startling.
“People really love the no people thing, which I didn’t expect,” he says of his Newcastle shop, where customers order via a touch screen then collect their meal off a conveyer belt. “Most people say ‘I love that I don’t need to talk to anyone. My favourite comment was someone who said [it was great for when you have a hangover and don’t have to face anyone.”
US native Beye, 28, came to the Hunter in 2008 and enrolled to do architecture at the University of Newcastle before switching to a business marketing degree. He launched a marketing consultancy and picked up contracts with hospitality businesses in the Hunter Valley, which provided initial food for thought for Hey Zeus. By late 2015, his personal focus of fitness was pivotal.
“As a busy student I always made food choices based on convenience and that led me to KFC and McDonalds but it made me feel like crap,” he says. “I thought there were probably other people who wanted what I did, too.”
Beye fine-tuned a business model to enable him to offer an almost 100 per cent organic menu while keeping margins down – including his move to forgo wait staff.
Hey Zeus uses the Subway mode of ordering: customers pick a bowl or wrap based on a mixture of quinoa and rice then building upon it with meats, vegies and sauces.
Beye has eight staff who make orders fresh on the spot and due to “crazy good” reviews he is again hiring, paying above award wages because “if you pay the minimum wage you expect the minimum.”
Beye says critics who say Hey Zeus is impersonal are looking at it the wrong way: fast food isn’t renowned for memorable service, anyway.
He aborted plans to be a concierge when he saw people want to order without interruption. Still, he finds it “cute” that clients insist on yelling “thanks” as they exit: “We can just hear them behind the brick wall.”