While the world’s premier horse race is known as The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports, the same cannot be said for the lines within the infield of the Kentucky Derby. It routinely takes over 20 minutes just to get a couple of mint juleps. Long wait times for cocktails aren’t unique to the Derby, either. In almost every stadium on the planet, waiting for a drink is almost worse than watching your team lose. After sharing similar experiences, a group of Georgia Tech grads put their engineering minds to work and created an artificially intelligent robotic bartender. What sounds like something straight from the streets of Tokyo is actually the work of Atlanta-based startup, Monsieur. The Monsieur team was at Churchill Downs last week to deploy their innovative technology at the track’s executive suites. I recently sat down with Monsieur President, Donnie Beamer, and COO, Mario Taylor, to get the scoop.
Co-founded in 2013 by Barry Givens and Eric Williams, Monsieur is actively led by Givens and a team of 9 full time employees. Based out of ATDC, Monsieur is a, “Technology used to order, prepare, and serve cocktails that can be used on or off-premise,” explains Beamer. “We’re initially focusing on-premise in sports and entertainment venues, hotels, and movie theaters. These are places where there’s no bartender because they don’t offer spirits at all or they offer self service, like luxury suites at sports and entertainment venues and VIP sections of nightclubs, or where there is a bar or bartender and they need additional capacity.”
Receiving a drink from one of Monsieur’s machines incorporates some seriously impressive technology on the back end. Monsieur sells its hardware and software to venues. “The hardware is our Trojan horse,” says Taylor. “Venues pay a hardware fee upfront and then there’s a monthly subscription to have access to our web app. This is the real jewel for the owner of the venue because it allows to them to have real time tracking of data, as well as the ability to create their own recipes online and sync them with the machine.” Consumers can order drinks from their phones and receive them at one of Monsieur’s machines and they can also buy the machine outright for home use.
“We look to be the largest platform in the sale, marketing, and consumption of cocktails,” states Beamer. “We stand out from our competitors because we have a more integrated solution,” adds Taylor. “Our competitors only offer hardware with no other components to make a true, holistic ecosystem. Like Apple, everything with Monsieur works seamlessly together.”
Monsieur’s touch screen, digital interface
Co-Founder Barry Givens came up with the idea at an Applebee’s when trying to watch the NBA Finals. He and some friends ordered drinks at the beginning of the game and it took until halftime to get their orders because the servers were bottlenecked at the bar because they couldn’t make the drinks themselves. As a mechanical engineer at Georgia Tech, Barry said, ‘there’s got to be a better way to do this.’ After working in corporate America for a few years, he decided to go all-in and quit his job. He was building machines out of his parents’ garage and nine iterations later, he and his team found themselves at the 141st Kentucky Derby.
Levy Restaurants, the concessionaire for Philips Arena, the Georgia Dome, and Churchill Downs, invited Monsieur to this year’s Derby. “It was everyone on our team’s first time at a horse race, let alone the largest horse race there is. There was an awe factor,” says Taylor. “We were received with open arms. It was almost as if they built the suites for our machines.” In the new Winners Circle Suites, Monsieur’s 9 robotic bartenders poured over 4,000 drinks for approximately 250 people from Thursday to Saturday. What were their reactions? “People loved it! It was kind of like sending your kid off to college for the first time,” jokes Taylor. “We didn’t necessarily have to be there, but wanted to make sure it went extraordinarily well.”
Going forward, Monsieur is looking to work with a large, international hotel chain by starting off here in Atlanta and seeing if they can expand across their entire portfolio. As Tech grads, the Monsieur team are proud to be based in the ATL. “Atlanta is the cradle of innovation in the Southeast,” boasts Taylor. “We’re working to help Tech Square keep a lot of the bright minds here. We tell people, ‘if you want to start a new venture, you don’t have to move to Silicon Valley. You can actually go to 5th Street and find 20 people who are willing to help you get off the ground.’ I think we’re moving in the right direction.”