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GOPIZZA founder and Global CEO Jay Lim.

How GOPIZZA fused AI in fast-food service in Asia

The brand already has 200 restaurants across a couple of Asian markets.

For many big brands, AI in foodservice is still in the testing stage, for example with AI-powered drive-thrus and kiosks. However, the Korean pizza brand GOPIZZA managed to fuse the concept of AI in its service and operations seamlessly.

During his presentation at the QSR Media Asia Tabsquare Conference & Awards, Jay Lim, Global CEO and founder of GOPIZZA detailed how he found it odd that pizza can only be enjoyed by a group. He thought, why can't someone who just wants some pizza order one that is served just for him? This was the foundation he built his now 200-unit-strong brand.

First launched in South Korea, GOPIZZA is a rising star in Asia's fast food scene with its unique pizza-for-one fast-food concept blending with AI capabilities to help streamline operations.

In an interview with QSR Media, GOPIZZA founder and Global CEO Jay Lim recalled that he initially thought about GOPIZZA’s business model whilst eating at a McDonald’s.

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Jay has been a fan of the chain since he was a kid growing up in the US. What he loved most about it was its accessibility to most consumers because of its cheap pricing and convenience, allowing even a solo diner to find something to enjoy.

During one of these visits, Jay thought to himself: Why doesn’t McDonald’s serve pizza?

“I thought, why don’t they sell pizzas? Pizzas are also a favourite amongst kids. But if you think about it, pizzas are expensive. And it’s big so you have to share it,” he said.

Working in a startup at that time, Jay was consumed by thoughts about building his own business. It struck him to take what he thought was best about McDonald’s business model, meaning how fast they can serve a customer, and create a pizza that was better suited to individual consumers in terms of price, speed, and portion.

He did this by creating his version of dough that could be prepared and baked in minutes using an oven the company patented specifically for the business.

Selling his pizza

Jay had the idea and the name for the business he wanted, but he didn't have the know-how to start an F&B venture. What he had was a master’s degree in engineering and a willingness to learn so he did his research by working part-time at a pizza franchise, and even went to a pizzeria institute to learn how to make pizza, experimenting with the menu at home.

After a year of preparation, Jay launched GOPIZZA in a food truck along the Han River in Seoul in March 2016. Like most people who just entered into a small business, he had little money so he had to sell pizzas for a year all by himself. That one food truck sold almost 500 pizzas a day.

“I didn’t have any money to open a restaurant. So what I did was, I took every earnings from the food truck and reinvested it into pop-ups in shopping malls,” Jay said. He was still selling the pizzas himself, albeit inside malls this time.

Innovation

GOPIZZA had two innovations that enabled it to grow. First, is its recipe for parbake dough. Parbake dough is as the name says, a partially baked dough that is prebaked, frozen, and distributed to restaurants in the morning.

The dough enables a faster prep time for the pizzas as a staff member would only need to pop it open, and put in the toppings, eliminating the entire process of making dough in the restaurant.

WATCH: How GOPIZZA leveraged local consumer trends for India expansion

“That’s where we save five to 10 minutes, and locations would only need one or two people. That’s why we can be very compact and fast,” Jay said.

Usually, the dough that is prepared in this way loses a lot of its taste but GOPIZZA, managed to perfect its parbake recipe in its automated factory called the Parbake Innovation Centre in Korea.

“We make it the cheapest and we make it the most delicious. We achieved all of this through food ingredient technology and factory automation process technology,” Jay explained.

Another significant innovation is his patented GOVEN which boasts a cooking speed of three minutes. In under three minutes, the pizza is cooked, sliced, and topped off with other ingredients.

 

 

GOPIZZA also uses an AI smart-topping station that is connected to the cloud. It uses facial recognition technology that identifies the user and their level as operators. For beginners, the topping station lights up to indicate the right toppings and the cameras in the table also identify if you have put enough toppings and correct the staff member if needed.

Since it is also connected to the cloud, any changes in the menu are immediately relayed to all its outlets.

Going international

It was 2018 when GOPIZZA landed its first venture capital investment. In that initial seed round, the brand was able to raise US$500k This enabled it to open a flagship in Gangnam. In nine months, GOPIZZA grew to 30 restaurants.
 
“In 2019, we saw opportunities to grow overseas and reach other parts of Korea. Because we are venture capital funded, we naturally want to be a unicorn. We did the math, but with Korea and its decreasing population, high competition, and small land size, we figured it was impossible to become a unicorn just focusing locally. That’s why we started looking at bigger markets like India and Southeast Asia,” Jay said.

 

 

Desiring to grow his company, Jay went to India without knowing anyone or anything about the market.

For example, for their version of parbake, they needed a manufacturer to make it locally using their recipe. Since he knew not a single manufacturer in India, what he did was go to a convenience store, take a product off the shelf, take note of the name of the manufacturers, and just search for them on the internet.

“And I would just go there and tell the manufacturer’s heads that this is the product that I want to make, are you able to make them? That’s how much I hustled back then,” Jay recalled.

“I think that’s GOPIZZA’s strength. That bravery and that power of execution. Rather than just strategising and studying the market for years and years, because we’re a startup we just go and find a way to make it work,” he said.

Future plans

Jay’s vision for GOPIZZA is to be the “pizza everywhere” company. This means he will be doubling down on entering big and small areas from shopping centres to stadiums and petrol stations. He aims to build 10,000 stores in the next 10 years.

“One of the interesting growths is coming from my corporate and school meals where they install a super tiny GOPIZZA kitchen within a corporate office or in schools and they serve fresh hot pizza to employees or students,” Jay shared.

During his talks at the recently concluded QSR Media Asia Tabsquare Conference & Awards 2024, Jay revealed that he has partnered with GS25, South Korea's biggest convenience store chain to place a new, smaller version of his GOPIZZA outlets. Jay said he envisions this concept to be adapted to foot traffic locations like cinemas and groceries.

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