Bringing back the automat
Put a nickel in, and take out a slice of pie from the windowed compartment in the modular vending machine — such was the format of the automat, a restaurant style made popular in the U.S. by Horn & Hardart, a Philadelphia-based chain.
- Now comes the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, a small but growing chain that's trying to revive the idea — with a modern twist.
- Instead of traditional meatloaf and tomato soup, its vending machines dispense contemporary cultural mash-ups — like dumplings filled with mac 'n cheese, lamb gyro or Buffalo chicken.
- Could this be the latest hipster trend — on the heels of conveyor belt sushi?
Driving the news: The 2-year-old Brooklyn Dumpling Shop is expanding its automat concept nationally, with five locations in New York and one that just opened in Dallas.
- Others are anticipated in Philadelphia, Austin, Miami, Atlanta, Vancouver and elsewhere.
- In addition to traditional dumplings (like pork buns and shrimp & vegetable shumai), the menu includes specialties like Reuben dumplings and bacon, egg & cheese croissant dumplings, or "CroSumplings."
History: Automats like Horn & Hardart were a dining staple of the Depression era in the Northeast.
- The last one in New York City closed in 1991, a "victim of changing eating habits," as James Barron wrote in the New York Times.
- His eulogy for that last one — at 42nd Street and Third Avenue — began: "The Automat, whose gleaming chrome-and-glass machines brought high-tech eating to a low-tech era, has gulped down its last coin and served up its last helping of macaroni, baked beans and kaiser rolls."
What they're saying: "The sleek, futuristic cafes predated fast-food outlets, with the first New York Automat opening in 1912," per TastingTable.
Bonus: The automats of yesteryear were an inspiration to a young Howard Schultz, a Brooklyn native, as he laid plans to found Starbucks.