Food Flight: Roots 657 Explores the Future of Restaurant Deliveries

On Thursday morning, Chef Chris Rieloff attached a to-go box with one of Roots 657’s signature brisket sandwiches and a side of mac and cheese to the tether of a long-endurance quadcopter and watched as it was flown to a neighboring field and lowered it to the ground from 100 in the air.

It was a demonstration of things to come—someday relatively soon.

As federal regulators continue to develop the rules that will govern commercial use of the uncontrolled airspace—below 400 feet—innovators are exploring the opportunities that advances in drone technology offer.

The Oct. 7 test flight involved three such partners: the chefs at Roots 657 in Lucketts; the team from Xelevate, the new unmanned systems flight facility located nearby; and a contingent from Michigan-based drone manufacturer Vayu Aerospace.

Roots 657 co-founder and Chef Rich Rosendale said the project grew from an informal conservation with members of the Xelevate team.

“They came down to the culinary lab and we were talking just as neighbors in business, and obviously being customers here at Roots, about how we can do more stuff together,” he said.

“We had so many synergies. We wanted to have a strategic partnership from a food level,” Xelevate President and Co-founder Marcy Eisenberg said.“And recognizing what Chef Rosendale and their team have—they are the equivalent in the culinary arts the Xelevate is in unmanned systems—both innovators, both using technology to make their industry more efficient, but still create great solutions. This was natural way for us to move forward together.”

“We started talking about social media and we said it would be kindof cool to do a drone delivery or something like that. And they were like, ‘we can make that happen.’”

It was no simple feat. Poor weather forced a scrub of the scheduled flight on the previous day, and Vayu President TK Eppley and members of his flight operations team developed a delivery plan that addressed the challenges of weight and wind, and used a second, higher drone to ensure the test ended with a pin-point drop-off.

“We just want to show that it can be done safely, smartly with the right level of love in it,” Eisenberg said. 

She noted there are still significant regulatory hurdles to clear before area residents will see drones making drops in their yards. Thursday’s flight was from one side of the Roots property to another. Rules that will allow out-of-sight, over-the-horizon flights that will be critical to the industry are still on the drawing board.

“We have some clients right now who are getting their FAA certifications to deliver organs and vaccines and things that will help everybody expedient and move forward rather than being stuck in traffic,” she said. “Drones, at the end of the day, are game-changing technology.

Root 657 co-founder Muriel Sarmadi doesn’t doubt that there will be a demand for the service. In just the few days since word of the test flight began to circulate, she said the restaurant phone has been ringing with neighbors asking if they could get an aerial delivery.

The community will have the opportunity for a closer look at the latest in unmanned aircraft systems Oct. 20 when Xelevate holds a grand opening event for its “USA Center of Excellence” along Taylorstown Road near Lucketts. Learn more at xelevateus.com/grand-opening.

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