The Automat

The Automat is a fascinating slice of Americana. There is a great book on the subject. Buy it Read it.

An Automat was a fast food restaurant where simple foods and drink were served by coin-operated vending machines.The automat featured what appeared to be completely automated food service, like a giant walk-in vending machine. The reality is there were no space "Robits" making your food. People worked at the automats. People like you and me. A cashier (A woman of course, as this was considered women's work) would sit in a glass-enclosed change booth in the center of the restaurant. Usually the booth was lipped by a wide marble counter with five to eight rounded depressions in it. She would serve many customers at once, taking their money from the depressions and dropping nickels in its place. The diner would insert the required number of coins and then slide open a window to remove the meal. The "machines" were filled via the human staff from the kitchen behind. The machines had a locking device that would ensure the food was in place before the front panel could be opened.
Unlike modern vending machines, food was served on real crockery with metal utensils, and drinks were served in glasses made of real honest to goodness glass.
Inspired by the Quisiana Automat in Berlin, the first automat in the U.S. was opened June 12, 1902 at 818 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart.The automat was brought to New York City in 1912 and gradually became part of popular culture in northern industrial cities. Horn & Hardart was the most prominent automat chain. During 1940s and 1950s, there were over 50 Horn and Hardart’s restaurants in New York City, serving about 350,000 customers a day.

The format was threatened by the growth of suburbs and the rise of fast food restaurants catering to cars (with their drive-thru windows and car hop service) in the 1950s; by the 1970s their remaining appeal was strictly nostalgic. Another contributing factor to their demise was undoubtedly the inflation of the 1960s and 70s, making the food too expensive to be bought conveniently with coins. This was way before the invention debit card swiper or bill acceptors that are commonplace on todays vending equipment.
Another form of the Automat was used on some passenger trains, the last United States example being an Automat car on Amtrak's short-lived service to Janesville, Wisconsin in 2001. These were limited by mechanical problems, since the machines weren't necessarily intended for the bumpy ride on the rails, but mainly because state laws that prohibited alcoholic beverages from being sold by a machine.
They are still very common in The Netherlands, but outside of there, few exist. The last real, non-Mobile Automat closed in the United States in 1991. However...

They Always Come Back:
in 2006, an automat opened in New York City's East Village with a very rocky start. Mired in bad blood, and legal problems stemming from a business partners actions, the American Automat struggled to stay alive. One of the partners, Robert Kwak, alleges in court papers that David Leong and "Nobu" Hai Nguyen blocked his access to the store's cell phone and e-mail accounts, tried to "terminate" him, and banned him from the premises. The other side says Robert tried to steal from him. They worked out their personal issues and the Automat survived.

The difference between automats of the past and this new incarnation is the dining space.


Bamn! serves food to go.
Half a concept is not always better than no concept at all.

Visit Bamn!

If you would like your own automat machine contact these people.

If you have a hankerin' for some post depression era food and would like to make Horn & Hardart's Baked Macaroni and Cheese ... click here and go to "Recipies"


Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

I'd take an automat over a drive-through any day.

JLawson said...

Bamn didn't make it.