We’ve heard all about the technology that powers Amazon Go — and eliminates cashiers — but once you’ve swiped in, grabbed your items and walked out, is the food actually any good?
On the much-anticipated opening day of the high tech convenience store, I decided to trek down to Amazon HQ to answer that very question. When I arrived around lunch time, I was greeted by a line stretching around the block, a little ironic for a concept marketed with phrases like “no lines, no checkout” and “good food, fast.” After waiting in line for about 20 minutes, I was able to enter the store.
About half the 1,800-square-foot space is dedicated to grab-and-go stuff, which makes sense given the clientele of hungry office workers in that area. The selection is split between food prepared by Amazon Go workers at an on-site kitchen and items from local providers such as Macrina Bakery, Molly’s and Alki Bakery. Amazon’s surprisingly large set of offerings include sandwiches, salads, protein packs and other meals. I’m a big sandwich guy — I eat one for lunch pretty much everyday — so I decided to stick with those for the purpose of the review.
After checking in with a unique QR code on the Amazon Go app and 10 minutes browsing the store I stuffed my orange Amazon Go tote bag with six sandwiches — the BKLT Wrap for $6.49, Jerk Chicken for $6.99, Mediterranean Lamb for $7.49, Middle Eastern Veggie Flatbread for $6.49, Turkey Basil Wrap for $6.49 and Rosemary Ham and Salsa Verde for $7.49 — and a couple of Amazon Go mugs for the office.
I hesitated for a second as I walked out the door without paying, a feeling many customers probably had on their first time in the store.
My order totaled $58.83 with tax, and I got the virtual receipt on the Amazon Go app a few minutes after leaving the store.
As much as I wanted to eat all the sandwiches at once, it would have really put a dent in my goal of not actively getting fatter in 2018. So I enlisted GeekWire staffers to join me in a taste test.
Overall, the sandwiches were quite good and felt like a step up from the typical grocery store experience. The freshness of ingredients really stood out, especially the bread.
A second pro is price. It’s tough to find any sandwich, let alone a good one, for less than $10 anywhere in or around downtown Seattle. If the lines eventually calm down, Amazon Go will be in a nice spot of having a quality sandwich offering, without the prices and wait that come with some other popular lunch destinations.
That said, there were a few things that could be improved, and it starts with those long lines. The Jerk Chicken sandwich was my favorite of the six, but it was over sauced given that the chicken wasn’t overwhelmingly spicy. The Turkey Basil Wrap was too meat and tomato heavy and could have used some more veggies. And overall, a couple of the sandwiches tasted a little on the salty side.
GeekWire health reporter and podcast wizard Clare McGrane was impressed with the veggie sandwich: “lots of fresh, tasty vegetables and some subtle flavoring I wouldn’t expect from a packaged sandwich,” she said. Sports tech and startup reporter Taylor Soper dug the bread and spread on the Mediterranean Lamb sandwich, but he was a little spooked by the nutrition information — 900 calories, 70 percent of your daily sodium intake, 44 grams of fat. Soper said he’d get it again, pretty much the highest praise you can get from him.
Independent of my sandwich investigation, GeekWire editor Todd Bishop picked up a Jerk Chicken Caesar Salad from Amazon Go. He described it as tangy, spicy and fresh, saying “I would eat this everyday,” even though it had been sitting in the GeekWire fridge for a day.
Aside from its new Amazon Meal Kits service, this is the first time the tech giant has made and sold items like sandwiches and salads. Amazon clearly put a lot of work into its fresh food foray and it even has its own executive chef: Jason Travi. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Travi has been on the job for three years, and before that he was a chef at a variety of establishments in Los Angeles, including Superba Food & Bread and Littlefork and worked under Wolfgang Puck at a pair of L.A.-area restaurants.
Leading Amazon Go’s kitchen and carrying the title of chef de cuisine is Jonathan Hunt. He’s been with Amazon for six years, first working on prepared food for the AmazonFresh division, before moving over to Amazon Go during the planning phase in 2015. Before that, he was executive chef of Boom Noodle, a Japanese noodle and small plate restaurant that operated in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for a decade before closing in 2016. He also owned his own catering business, Lowell-Hunt Catering.
With Amazon putting all this energy behind prepared food, it will be interesting to see what happens to these offerings in the future. On top of Amazon Go, the $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods acquisition and the meal kit service, Amazon’s other food-related ambitions include a lunch delivery service called Daily Dish; a restaurant delivery service for Prime members; a private food label business; and the original AmazonFresh grocery delivery service that launched in Seattle nine years ago.
Reporter’s note: One of the sandwiches mysteriously disappeared from the GeekWire fridge during the reporting and writing of this story. I don’t know who you are, sandwich thief, but I WILL find you.