Adaptation Series 1
Throwback to Mid-Town Lunch – vending cafes for densely populated cities.
The current pandemic is going to populate some pages over some months as this is obviously what is consuming all of our attention. In the food and beverage industry we are all poking and testing what will be the way forward and how this whole thing is going to break and when.
Unfortunately we have no idea and any amount of speculation is likely going to be incorrect. This is why the directions I try to imagine are not only to work in the short term as we all come out of our forced hibernation and try to pick up the pieces; but to also work in the long term as acceptable way to do business even when customers become comfortable again.
This is why old is new again seems like a decent idea. The Mid-Town lunch in Manhattan was a true force of commerce and consumption on an epic level in the early 1900’s. The city was booming in every industry and they all needed to be fed. In 1912 Horn & Hardart introduced the Automat in Times Square and it was an instant success that grew to about 36 locations all over the city. This lunch trend lasted into the 40’s and mostly declined due to de-urbanization and offices building in their own cafeterias to feed workers. Check out Lunch Hour Exhibition from NYPL for more detail on H&H.
The Automat could work today. Slide windows with fresh meals waiting behind them. Tap your card or pay with an app to be completely contactless, open the window with your gloved hand and you’re on your way, germ free. You can save on real estate as your square footage needs will go down and your labor reduces, as you no longer need FOH staff. Simply build out a wall of food vending windows with an awning overhead and a kitchen behind the scenes and you have an epidemic friendly concept that can also be a friend to the usual fast and casual need for meals on the go.
This concept is actually already happening in Tokyo and Korea, Thailand and even Holland. FEBO is a dominant food chain in Holland with over 50 locations serving fresh food from a compartment.
In Singapore Chef in a Box started as a meal in a box company that grew to have physical Automat locations and they are doing very well.
In NYC on St. Mark’s Place an Automat concept named, BAMN!, was attempted however they got the atmosphere and style wrong and they didn’t see much success.
Upstate in Rochester, a butcher shop, McCann’s Local Meats, just re-opened as an Automat meat seller in response to COVID19 as a way to keep his doors open and provide a safe environment for customers.
With the right approach, good food, and ease of use in a time like this it could be a quick win. It worked in the early part of last century…. Why not now?