Stellar Pizza starts operations outside USC

Benson Tsai, CEO of Stellar Pizza, said affordability was a primary goal for the business, with college students being “a customer base that really wants good, fast, affordable foods.” (CJ Haddad | Daily Trojan)

People lined up on the Row the night of Oct. 29, waiting outside as they watched robots fill their pizza orders on a screen. This was the official opening night for Stellar Pizza, a robot-run pizza truck operating in front of Phi Kappa Tau. The business was offering free pizza as a promotion for its launch. The truck can be found most weekend evenings around USC Village or the Row. Hours are subject to change over the next few weeks and will be updated on the Stellar Pizza app and Instagram account.

A big goal for Stellar Pizza is to make food more affordable, said Benson Tsai, chief executive officer of the business. Tsai noted that college students were “a customer base that really wants good, fast, affordable foods.”

“With the cost of a college education being so high these days, I think it’s important that the cost of living be somewhat reduced or stay reasonable,” he said. In regards to the price of the pizza, he believes that “the only way it’s achievable is ultimately through robots.”

Students have varied opinions about robots preparing their pizza. Steven Parson, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, shared his main reservation about trying the food. 

“It’s a constant fight between quality and quantity,” he said. 

Nevertheless, he was excited to have more late-night eating options available at USC outside of the USC Village, and was willing to give it a try. 

Amrina Roy, a graduate student studying business analytics, said she thought that the robotic aspect of the food truck was great. 

“I am a technical person, I am from a technical background; this seems very good for me. It’s like a pizza factory inside a truck, which is insane,” she said. 

Rylan Giorgetta, a sophomore majoring in classics and archeology, has already tried the pizza twice. His main takeaways were that it was good and inexpensive. 

“It comes out to be a pretty decent pizza, so it’s not lacking in that aspect,” he said. 

Giorgetta said that people generally tend to prefer handmade food, and he agreed with this to an extent. However, he still thinks the robotic model can be beneficial. 

“If you’re paying less, I think it’s worth it,” he said.  

The truck has a screen on the outside to display the pizza while it is being made, showing that the process used by the robots is relatively similar to that of a human. The machine opens the dough, adds sauce, cheese and toppings, and then cooks it. While the process of pizza-making itself is similar, the machinery took about 30 rocket scientists to develop. The biggest challenge comes in programming the robots to identify when there is something wrong with the pizza, Tsai said. 

Tsai initially worked on trucks and buses in Silicon Valley and spent time working for SpaceX, but eventually switched over to the food business, believing that this idea could bring together his work history and his experience as a chemical engineering major. 

“Stellar Pizza is bringing all of my professional history and channeling all of the network and my experience into something that I was really passionate about once upon a time,” he said. 

Another concern Tsai has heard regarding the idea is that it could get rid of jobs for people. However, he argues that the amount of money robot-made food will save people can make up for the number of potential jobs that are replaced. He said he believes this format is the “future of the restaurant industry,” and automated machines already dispense drinks in fast food restaurants and produce food sold in grocery stores. 

“It’s very cool, but it’s not revolutionary,” he said. 

Customers can use the Stellar Pizza app to find the exact location of the truck as it moves around. It will typically be located around the Row or near USC Village.