Then, on November 2, the axe fell. Kytch’s shocked salesperson forwarded Nelson and O’Sullivan an email that McDonald’s had apparently sent to every franchisee. It warned first that installing Kytch voided Taylor machines’ warranties—a familiar threat from corporations fighting right-to-repair battles with their customers and repairers. Then it went on to state that Kytch “allows complete access to all of the equipment’s controller and confidential data” (Taylor’s and McDonald’s data, not the restaurant owner’s), that it “creates a potential very serious safety risk for the crew or technician attempting to clean or repair the machine,” and that it could cause “serious human injury.” The email included a final warning in italics and bold: “McDonald’s strongly recommends that you remove the Kytch device from all machines and discontinue use.”
The very next day, McDonald’s sent another note to franchisees announcing a new machine called Taylor Shake Sundae Connectivity that would essentially duplicate many of Kytch’s features. The note ended with a repeat of its boldfaced warning not to use Kytch.
As McDonald’s restaurant owners canceled hundreds of subscriptions, trials, and commitments to install Kytch over the next months, the startup’s sales projections evaporated. Finding new customers became impossible. Their sole, flabbergasted salesperson quit.
When WIRED reached out to McDonald’s and Taylor, both companies reiterated the warning that Kytch presents dangers to employees and technicians. “The operation and maintenance of the specialized equipment developed by Taylor and used to produce soft-serve and shake products can be complicated,” reads a statement from a Taylor spokesperson. “The checks and balances embedded in the controls of our equipment are meant to protect the operator and service technician when they interact with the machine.”
As for Taylor’s Kytch-like internet-connected machine, the company states flatly that “Taylor has not imitated Kytch’s device and would have no desire to do so.” It argues that the connected device has been in the works for years, along with a different connected kitchen device called Open Kitchen, sold by another subsidiary of Taylor’s parent company, Middleby.
None of the franchisees who spoke to WIRED, for their part, had ever seen or even heard of the Open Kitchen device. Nor had they seen a Taylor Shake Sundae Connectivity machine in the wild. McDonald’s says that only a few dozen restaurants have been testing the new models since October.
All the franchisees agreed, too, that the notion that Kytch could cause harm to humans was far-fetched, if not impossible: Kytch’s commands don’t generally affect moving parts, and Taylor’s own manual tells anyone servicing or disassembling the device to unplug it before working on it.
McD Truth argues that McDonald’s Kytch-killing emails stem from Taylor’s goal of building its own Kytch-like system and McDonald’s long-running relationship with Taylor—which, after all, makes not only its ice cream machines but also the grills used to cook its mainstay burger products. McDonald’s may have also been spooked by Kytch’s ability to collect proprietary data on ice cream sales, McD Truth speculates.
Another franchisee called McDonald’s slapdown “suspicious” and “very heavy-handed.” In more than 25 years of owning McDonald’s restaurants, he told me, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
In the aftermath of the bomb that McDonald’s and Taylor dropped on their startup, Nelson and O’Sullivan came to believe that somehow the two companies must have gotten their hands on a Kytch device—at least to test it, if not to copy it. But Kytch had required its customers to sign a contract that forbade them from sharing their devices. Who had handed it over?
So Nelson and O’Sullivan began sleuthing. Tyler Gamble, they recalled, had told them six months earlier that one of his Taylor machines equipped with a Kytch device had suffered a broken compressor. When they saw Gamble at the National Owners Association conference, he’d mentioned that the machine was still in the shop—which struck them as strange. Compressors don’t take six months to fix.