Food Service & Agriculture, Retail, and Technology

Restaurant hopes for a charge from new technology

Kitchen 67 pairs with Gill Electronics to offer tabletop resonant charging.

August 12, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Kitchen 67
Kitchen 67 offers tabletop charging stations for electronic devices. Courtesy Gill Electronics

When Johnny Brann Jr. opened Kitchen 67 in 2012, he knew the concept would take regular updating.

Nearly four years later, Brann has teamed with Gill Electronics to enhance technology at the restaurant, 1977 E. Beltline Ave.

Kitchen 67 has had state-of-the-art wireless charging devices since it opened. Gill Electronics of Grand Rapids went in and replaced the inductive phone chargers with resonant chargers that offer greater power and range to help customers charge their phones quicker, more fully and in a larger area than before, said Larry Leete, Gill Electronics head of sales, marketing and commercialization.

According to Leete, Kitchen 67 is the only restaurant in the Midwest to feature resonant charging, but the technology is fairly common in some Asian countries and in Israel.

“A lot of people have battery anxiety about their phones now, and it’s not just millennials,” Leete said. “We wanted to show that Kitchen 67 is next-generational.”

When Kitchen 67 opened with the goal of being a technology-focused restaurant, Brann knew the concept wasn’t an open-and-forget-it endeavor.

“I knew I had to make sure I was updating regularly, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense moving forward,” he said. “The advancements have been easy because of the companies in West Michigan working on technology advancements and wanting to test it out.”

Brann worked with companies such as Apple Inc., Meijer Inc., Audio Space, Custer Office Environments, Amway Corp.’s Fulton Innovation, Gentex, Verizon Wireless and more to launch the initial concept in summer 2012.

Brann said he now regularly receives phone calls from tech companies, such as Gill Industries spinoff Gill Electronics, due to the test ground he can provide.

“We get to work with a forward-thinking organization and see what works in a hospitality environment and tailor our products to that market,” Leete said. “We needed a laboratory, and Johnny was good enough to let us have a real-life testing area. We have a lot of this product overseas, but it’s just coming to the states, and we wanted a place locally to throw it in and get real feedback.”

Unlike less powerful inductive chargers, the resonant charging technology, called TesLink, also works on tablets and laptops — once those abilities are incorporated into products rolling out in the fourth quarter, Leete said. Until the technology becomes available in the products, Kitchen 67 supplies adapters at tables to allow charging.

Brann said feedback from the charging technology has been overwhelming, and he hopes he can begin installing the product in the company’s 10 Brann’s Steakhouse and Grill locations in Michigan.

Leete said West Michigan is a hub for wireless power. The innovations come from companies not necessarily looking for personal technology but for solutions to problems like water filtration and electric car charging, he said.

“A lot of people think it’d (come from) California, but Fulton Innovations came up with the inductive charging system in the mid-2000s, and we’ve just developed resonant in 2011,” he said. “It’s a generational hop, but it’s focused here in West Michigan. No real rhyme or reason; it just happened.”

Leete said the technology is now going into office furniture products, and Gill Electronics is working with OFS and Kimball Office to install the charging stations in conference tables and desks, as well as at hotels.

Hotels are excited about the product, Leete said, because back-end software will help them measure the energy usage within guest rooms, a task the hotels can only measure 40 percent of right now through items like air conditioners.

He said the price point for an inductive wireless charger is approximately $205, so a conference table with eight seats would cost an extra $1,600.

“A lot of that sort of thing is coming down the pipeline,” Leete said. “It’s really a neat thing, but the first place a person will experience it is a place like Kitchen 67, and then they can say, ‘I’d like to have this in an office or home.’”

Similar back-end software will eventually help restaurants measure how long a customer sits in a booth and other key data points, he said. He said Gill Electronics is working with a coffee chain, under a nondisclosure agreement, to measure metrics and send coupons to frequent customers.

Similar programs are being looked at with professional football and baseball stadiums, Leete said.

“With battery anxiety, we find that people will sit here a few more minutes to get that extra charge and maybe order another drink or dessert,” he said. “If you can connect with customers that extra little bit, that’s an added value you’ve never had before.”

Outfitting entire restaurants does result in high costs, but Brann said the technology would automatically result in a higher return of investment.

“It’s just an added immeasurable,” Brann said. “We’ll just measure it by what we hear, and I think we already have. It just gets more buzz out that we have something here most other places don’t. It creates a buzz you can’t put a price point on.”

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