The Return of the Automat

The Return of the Automat

Food & Drink

The Return of the Automat


By Cari Martens

We’re not sure how many of our readers remember automats—restaurants stocked with coin-operated vending machines that dispensed freshly-made hot foods, cold sandwiches, fruits and desserts. Popular in the 1930’s and ‘40s, they had pretty much vanished by the 1970s.

p(left caption). Photo: Lucio Tonina

It appears the automat may be making a comeback, at least in Europe. As reported by John Tagliabue in the New York Times, an Italian gentleman named Claudio Torghele has sparked the vending resurgence with his automat machine that cooks pizza.

This gizmo does not merely zap a frozen pizza in a microwave, it actually bakes the pie with flour, water, tomato sauce, and other fresh ingredients. It creates a fresh, piping hot pizza in about three minutes.

Mr. Torghele’s creation has spurred a renaissance that is now spreading across the European continent. Fully automated restaurants have opened in Italy, and in France, where the machines are called Yatoo Partoo—roughly translated it means ‘You can get everything, everywhere.’ The machines dispense milk, juice, snacks and sandwiches 24/7.

In the Netherlands, the automat never really went away. The Febo chain, which dates back nearly 70 years, has about 60 restaurants operating today.

Customers who pony up the $4.50 for a pizza from Torghele’s machine can watch the pizza being made through a window. You see flour dumped into a drum resembling a tiny washing machine, then there’s a squirt of water as the drum goes into a spin cycle. Next the dough is pressed into a 12-inch pizza disk, and tomato sauce is squirted onto the dough and cheese is added. Finally, it’s baked in an infrared oven, slipped into a cardboard tray and into the customer’s hands.

As far as expansion plans, Torghele plans to concentrate on his home country of Italy and its surrounding European neighbors for now. When (and if) his pizza-making machine will make it to the USA is anybody’s guess at this point. But the way the economy is going right now, $4.50 for a 12-inch pizza sounds rather appealing—especially when you get to watch it being made by a robot-like machine.

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