Maestro, ‘the Keurig for food,’ rebrands as Tovala

by Andreas Rekdal
January 19, 2016

University of Chicago startup Maestro, known colloquially as “the Keurig for food,” is rebranding as Tovala and preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign.

The company, which won the top prize at the University’s Venture Challenge in May last year, just opened up pre-registration for people interested in snagging early bird deals for the Kickstarter campaign on its brand new website. Pre-registration costs $10. The final product will end up costing between $299 and $399.

Tovala’s core product is a cloud-enabled countertop kitchen appliance that cooks complete and balanced meals completely on its own. The idea for the company came when founder and CEO David Rabie was in business school, and too busy to make healthy meals for himself. He knew there had to be some way of automating the process.

“The way it works is that we work with Michelin star chefs who prepare raw, fresh ingredients that are pre-marinated,” said Rabie. “They’re delivered to your door totally fresh. When you’re ready to eat, you scan them outside the machine, put them in, hit a button, and then you’re done.”

The toaster oven-sized machine then looks up a barcode in the cloud to determine the precise cooking mode, temperature and time for your particular meal. The goal is to cook meals with more precision than any human could ever do in 10 to 30 minutes, without any cleanup required — and to make it easy enough for a five-year old to use.

In Tovala’s original concept, food would be delivered in pods. They’ve transitioned away from that idea, and will now be delivering fresh ingredients on trays instead. The original concept also had multiple cooking chambers. The new appliance will only have one.

The appliance would be able to handle fairly complex recipes. As an example, Rabie pointed to a roast chicken dish with a fall medley of vegetables over sourdough bread. To make this particular recipe, the barcode would tell the appliance to steam its chamber for 5 minutes to give it a juicy character before broiling the dish for another 12 to make it crisp on the outside.

The magic ingredient to cooking meals this way is that Tovala’s chefs are hard at work to combine ingredients that are optimal for being cooked together. Meals will cost between $10 and $15 per person and will be sold in bundles. The company is still performing tests to determine whether the capacity of the appliance will be two or four servings.

In addition to rebranding and revamping its concept, Tovala has also raised a $500,000 pre-seed round led by Origin Ventures, lead investors in GrubHub, on top of its original $70,000 funding from Pritzker Venture Capital and U of C Booth School of Business. This most recent round was joined by Valor Equity, New Stack Ventures, and angel investors including Mark Tebbe, Patrick Cadariu, Craig Wortmann, and Michael Staenberg.

Images via Tovala.

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