As a child growing up in New York, I was totally fascinated by the Automat. These large establishments dispensed food from banks of machines; the only employee was a cashier to change bills into coins. I wasn’t alone---at their peak of popularity, there were 40 Automats in Manhattan alone, and many more in the major cities of the Northeast. The rise of fast food killed the Automats, but interest in vending machines is coming back.
Sprinkles, a chain of gourmet cupcakes stores, has installed a cupcake dispenser at their original location in Beverly Hills; the device resembles an ATM, and sells individual snacks for $4. The cupcakes there are already made, but a Parisian baker has taken the idea one step further by installing a bread machine next to his shop. You insert a single-Euro coin, wait sixty seconds, and collect a freshly baked baguette. Two entrepreneurs in New York City have founded a company called Pizzametry, and are working on a prototype machine that will bake pizza on command. A convenience store in Alabama has installed a vending machine that sells meat; you can purchase ribeyes, pork chops, sausages and sirloin with cash, credit or debit cards. This is nothing compared to Japan, where vending machines sell everything from bananas and ramen to seafood (yes, they have a machine stocked with live crabs).
It’s not surprising that we now have the ultimate example of this trend, the vending machine for the upper 1%:
Beverly Hills Caviar has unveiled their first three machines in the L.A. area. They’re described as “unique caviar boutiques” that sell truffles, escargot, bottarga and blini in addition to an assortment of fish eggs. The idea is not exactly new---a Russian firm installed more than 30 caviar machines in Moscow several years ago. The Russian machines, though, catered to the budget-conscious, specializing in salmon caviar and other low-end fish roe. In California you can purchase everything from a $4 mother of pearl spoon to a single ounce of Imperial River Beluga for $500. It’s the perfect cure for those late-night munchies, when only the finest will do.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to www.iconicspirits.net.