Two years ago a truck covered with large photos of pizza pies nosed its way onto a long Bay Area driveway. It was ferrying Alex Garden, the chief executive officer of Zume Pizza Inc., to the home of SoftBank Group Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son. Zume’s pitch was robots that could make pizzas a person would want to eat, so Son climbed aboard in the driveway of his Woodside, Calif., estate to watch as the truck’s ovens fired up some robot-made pies, according to people familiar with the meeting.
By the time Garden headed back down the driveway, he was well on his way to a SoftBank investment of $375 million, with double that money on the table if his business gained traction. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Zume marks one of the biggest recent disappointments in SoftBank’s portfolio. As of this year it no longer makes or delivers pizzas. In January, Zume cut 360 jobs, leaving a little over 300 employees, and said it would focus on packaging and efficiency gains for other food delivery companies. In a note to employees, Garden said that improving the global food system required increased focus and that the pizzas had served as “inspiration” for higher-growth businesses. Zume declined to comment for this story.