Bb.q Chicken, a new Korean fried chicken spot in Aurora, has a robot server named Kitty

Most of us wouldn’t expect our first interaction with a robot to be at a Korean fried chicken joint. But, then, that’s how the robots will eventually win: by surprising us while we’re eating.

Since May 26, “Kitty” the robot has been picking up plates at the counter and delivering them to customers inside bb.q Chicken at 2495 S. Havana St., which is the first of four planned metro Denver locations for the South Korea-based fast-casual chain.

The second location, at 9234 Park Meadows Drive in Lone Tree, opened on Saturday; a third, at 1360 Grant St. in Denver, opens next weekend. The final store will be in Littleton.

All four will serve the same menu — mostly wings and boneless “wings” with a variety of sauces, along with sides and beer — and appeal to a K-pop crossover crowd, as well as families and office workers during the daytime and young adults who want to hang out in the evenings.

The other three locations probably won’t have robots — at least not for awhile — but for franchise owner Jay Park, employing a robot made a lot of sense.

“She’s our hardest worker,” he said with a laugh. “Actually, the intention of the robot is to help our servers, but it has also attracted a lot of attention from customers. It’s pretty cool.”

Park designed the interior of the restaurant with the robot — which uses a lidar sensor like the ones in self-driving vehicles to get around and to stop and to start — in mind. The floors are polished concrete so that Kitty will remain stable, while the booths are arranged in a way that allows her to make her way around and still get back to the food window and to her charging station where she can power up at the end of the day. At lunchtime, the restaurant only needs two staffers in the front of the house since Kitty is able to deliver a lot of the food.

“Having a robot is not simple, but we are very comfortable using it,” Park added. “We have been using it every day from morning to night. It has been doing really well.”

Built by a Chinese company called Pudu Robotics, Kitty came at a cost of $13,000, Park said. Similar delivery robots have been used at a handful of other restaurants in the United States, like Ari Korean Barbecue in Texas, but they are more widely used in China and Korea.

Korean fried chicken, which can be spicy or sweet depending on the sauces, has become hugely popular in Denver over the past few years as national chains like bb.q Chicken and Bonchon, which is also based in South Korea, have moved in. In fact, Bonchon, which has about 115 locations in the United States, opened its third Colorado location, at 3970 Buchtel Blvd., in June.

Other recent Korean fried chicken openings include WingWok in Centennial and Mono Mono’s fourth location in Lakewood’s Belmar. The Korean fried chicken chains Angry Chicken and Cupbop also have locations in Aurora, along with several locally owned stores.

“KFC no longer stands for Kentucky fried chicken. It stands for Korean fried chicken,” joked Mike Lee, who owns the franchise on Grant Street.

Bb.q chicken has hundreds of locations in South Korea and often appears in TV shows and other media — something that has crossed over into the United States now that K-pop culture and Korean TV shows like “Squid Game” have become so popular here with young adults, Lee said.

That’s why he has several TVs in his location programmed with K-pop music videos, and phone-charging stations at every table. All four bb.q locations are also serving beer from Launch Pad Brewing in Aurora to help tie them into the local craft brewing scene.

“There are a lot of bars and clubs nearby, and I want this to be the place where people hang out before they go,” said Lee, who grew up in Colorado and worked as a general manager at Smashburger for nine years before joining bb.q Chicken.

Lee would love to have a robot in his store at some point as well, but he says the layout may not be ideal and the technology is expensive anyway.

But more than that, he’s excited to be providing a place near downtown for fried chicken and beer, a concept and combination that is so popular in Korea that is has its own word, “chimaek.”

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