Randi Zuckerberg Unites Food And Tech in Glorious Harmony

Randi Zuckerberg Unites Food

And Tech in Glorious Harmony

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shook Photography

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Randi Zuckerberg just can’t help but think of technology, no matter what time of day, even dinner time. The NYT best-selling author, serial tech entrepreneur and Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, has now set her sights on the food industry with a new interactive pop-up shop she launched this summer.

Housed in Chattanoga’s Tomorrow Building, Sue’s Tech Kitchen contains everything to make a child of 2017 shriek with delight (think: 3D printed desserts, code lessons with candy, and fruit-flavored music creation).  With the goal of uniting an appreciation of science and technology with entertainment, Zuckerberg saw a white space in the kid’s restaurant model of today.

“I have two kids of my own, and I feel like a lot of dining experiences out there-either the parents are dragging kids to things that are good for adults or kids are dragging their parents to Chuck E. Cheese”

Zuckerberg has said.

Designed by NASA scientist Sam Pfister, the tech playground offers parents and kids alike the chance to learn about futuristic technologies while feasting on delicious bites. “We’re re-envisioning the way you sit at the table.”

In addition to her food business, Zuckerberg is the Founder of Dot Complicated, an online community focused on simplifying lives overburdened with technology. She has also penned a children’s picture book called Dot, whose protagonist is a “spunky little girl well-versed in electronic devices.” And, for the record, Zuckerberg, a talented singer, invests in musical theater, and additionally realized her dream to sing on Broadway, in the musical Rock of Ages.

Beyond her accomplishments, Zuckerberg is also a warm and spirited human being with an infectious and bubbly personality. Her imagination seems to work in overdrive in everything she does, including her newest venture.

Here, we catch up with Zuckerberg to chat about kids, tech and why playing with food is the next big thing.

What was the lightbulb moment that led you to Sue’s Tech Kitchen? 

I was at a restaurant with my two boys and thought, ‘How cool would it be if a drone could deliver our food? Or if we could code with candy while we wait?’ I wondered where the modern day Chuck E. Cheese was, why it didn’t exist. So, in the middle of a family dinner, I decided to create it myself. I’m always encouraging parents to embrace technology in an interactive and healthy way with their family instead of being afraid of it or taking a more limited view. Modern children love technology experiences. Not only can they be entertaining, but they can be educational and help inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, too. And so I thought Sue’s would be the perfect foray into STEM.

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shook Photography
Why did you decide Chattanooga was the right place for this venture?

I went to Chattanooga on a business trip and completely fell in love with the city. In the wake of losing factory and manufacturing jobs, Chattanooga has been attracting an innovative tech startup community, rebranding itself as a new technology hub, wholly embraced by its creative people and it’s fabulous forward-thinking mayor, Andy Berke. Chattanooga really has an exciting model that a lot of cities could learn from. I couldn’t imagine launching Sue’s anywhere else.

What is the mission behind the venture?

To create experiences and content that help kids, families, and the young at heart fall in love with tech and science in a fun, joyful, and positive way. We’re aiming to make STEM a bigger part of children’s lives through memorable adventures with their family.

Randi Zuckerberg- Founder of Sue's Tech Kitchen
Did you run into any challenges throughout the launch process?

Fortunately, our challenges were more of a blessing than a curse. At $5 per family with only 30 slots a day for three days, we sold out pretty quickly, which left us scrambling to fit in the press and last minute requests (we really didn’t want to turn anyone away).  Plus, we chose the innovative Tomorrow Building to host Sue’s and they were spectacular at helping us arrange everything from shipping of equipment to set up.

How do you bridge online and offline worlds, via Sue’s Tech Kitchen?

We wanted to blend the analog, age-old tradition of family dining with the digital sense of adventure so we created a world where visitors could compose music with their food, 3D print their dessert, code videos game with candy. Plus, what could be better than the intersection of food and tech!

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shook Photography
What are some of the standout technology experiences on offer? What do they teach kids?

My hope is that children walk away remembering their adventures at Sue’s so it fosters an appreciation and desire to learn more about technology. So while every experience stands out, my personal favorite is teaching kids how to code using different color candies. At this station, kids learn how to move, turn, and spin a small robot to go where they choose.  Looking back on many of the photos taken from Sue’s launch, the biggest, most wide-eyed smiles are from kids experiencing how to code for the first time—and with candy no less!

How do you ensure adults have a good time too?

Most parents haven’t had the opportunity to experience virtual reality, interactive dining tables, and 3D printed food themselves so it’s always fun to watch the adult reaction the first time they eat a 3D printed S’mores as much as it is their kid’s. And since we take the time to explain each experience thoroughly to each group, parents get the opportunity to learn something new as well. Plus, I’d imagine that seeing their child’s imagination and fascination blossom would be something that knocks their socks off as well.

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shook Photography
Since the launch, what feedback and reactions have you gotten from kids and from their parents?

The feedback we’ve gotten has been so positive it’s hard to believe we were beta testing! Even the interns we had helping out at Sue’s had a wonderful time. That’s what’s so special about creating a new world—since not many people have been introduced to dining-meets-tech we could really blow some minds! And thanks for the forethought of Sue’s co-designer, NASA engineer Sam Pfister, our hard work in planning made implementation a breeze! Of course not without a few snafus—we are working with technology after all!

You’ve been a disruptor in the children’s space for a while now, and we would love to know your thoughts on navigating such an ever-changing, ever-evolving demographic.

I think first and foremost we have to change our mindset so that when we think about kids and tech we don’t immediately imagine a kid glued to a screen. Technology is definitely not going away anytime soon and our children are the ones who will be eradicating diseases, building flying cars, and making human teleportation possible.

Big ideas don’t come from limited thinking so parents have to be aware of their feelings of technology in the household. We shouldn’t be looking at screen time as a punishment or reward. Tech is the new normal so it’s important children learn about it sooner than later in healthy and educational ways.

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shook Photography
Tell us about your expansion plan. Would you like to franchise?

The ultimate goal is to get as many families to share the Sue experience as possible. We’re currently in talks to bring the Sue’s to a few major cities in 2018 as well as partnering with schools and kids’ educators. We hope Sue’s Tech Kitchen can plant the STEM seed and to do so we need to be in as many places as we can, which means more place than just off the coasts.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I think I’m pretty much an open book. But something that most people don’t know about me is that I like to lift weights without shoes on. I feel like I’m more grounded and strong when I’m only in my socks.

What is your life motto and/or philosophy for success?

It’s what I call ‘The Entrepreneur’s Dilemma’: Work, sleep, family, fitness, friends—pick three. When I choose a different three to focus on every day I can forgo attaining the impossible work/life balance and find a much more healthy and realistic work/life lopsidedness. No two days are the same and neither are the to-do lists. Focus on what needs to get done without the pressure of being unattainably perfect.

Photo Courtesy of Rob Shook Photography
What is something you’ve learned from this new venture/ Any advice for women following in your footsteps?

Aside from learning how to run a pop-up restaurant, I’ve learned what interests you will most likely interest other people so what makes you interesting is also your biggest asset.

With that, don’t let anyone tell you that all the things you want to accomplish are keeping you from success. What makes you different and willing to try to new things is what makes you unique, which is especially important for women to remember since we are so often told to “be less interesting” and focus on one thing at a time. Women are nature’s multi-taskers. Embrace your ambitions, goals, and hobbies and create your own world around those.

What do your kids think of Sue’s Kitchen?

Today, and probably for the next couple of years, they think I’m the coolest mom on the planet! But I know soon they’ll be teenagers and say, “Geez mom, coding with candy? Liquid nitrogen ice cream? That’s soooo pre-2020.” But I’ll take what I can get for now.

Belisa Silva

Belisa is an editor with more than 10 years of experience. Prior to SWAAY, she worked as freelance writer, covering lifestyle, fashion and beauty industries. Belisa was a Market Editor at Women’s Wear Daily for five years, where she interviewed rockstar business women like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and Iman. Belisa also contributes to Cosmetic Executive Women, where she highlights female executives making an impact in the beauty industry.

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