Flip camera maker cooks up tech-heavy restaurant

PALOS VERDES, California Thu Jun 2, 2011 5:58am EDT

Screenshot showing grilled cheese sandwich chain The Melt's iPhone app. Image obtained on June 2, 2011. REUTERS/Handout

Screenshot showing grilled cheese sandwich chain The Melt's iPhone app. Image obtained on June 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

PALOS VERDES, California (Reuters) - The founder of the popular -- and doomed -- Flip video camera is turning to another consumer passion for his new business: food.

Jonathan Kaplan, who created the easy-to-use video-camera business that Cisco Systems bought and is shutting down, said he was launching a restaurant chain called the Melt, serving grilled cheese and soup.

Heavy on technology, the Melt will encourage consumers to order sandwiches and soup using apps and to pay for them using mobile phones.

His backers include venture-capital firm Sequoia, known for investments in companies such as YouTube.

Kaplan, speaking at the Wall Street Journal's D9 technology conference, said people frequently ask him why Sequoia would get involved in a restaurant business.

"Then I point them to Chipotle's market cap," he said. The popular burrito chain, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (CMG.N), is valued at about $9 billion.

Kaplan demoed the technology on stage and then fed grilled cheese to conference organizers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. He had named sandwiches after each. The Walt is heavy on what Kaplan called "experienced" gruyere cheese.

Kaplan said he planned to open eight stores to start, at a cost of $500,000 to $1 million each, and would get help from restaurateur Michael Mina of San Francisco.

Networking giant Cisco (CSCO.O) bought Flip and then closed it late last year, which Kaplan said disappointed him. "By the way, I think it was the right decision for Cisco," which needed to improve overall performance, Kaplan said.

Kaplan joined Cisco along with the rest of Flip but chose to leave. He said he sensed Cisco might close Flip, saying that running the business "without my leadership would be challenging." (Editing by Gary Hill)

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