Back to the future: Automat dining concept gets Covid upgrade

Century-old invention with 21st century technology coming to New York area as restaurant owners struggle for customers amid Covid restrictions

New York Weekend Edition /
Nov.November 14, 2020 12:00 PM
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop (Photos via Brooklyn Dumpling Shop; iStock)

Brooklyn Dumpling Shop (Photos via Brooklyn Dumpling Shop; iStock)

A century-old dining concept is being resurrected in the New York metro area, as restaurant owners struggle for customers amid the continued coronavirus restrictions.

Automat Kitchen in Jersey City and Brooklyn Dumpling Shop — in Manhattan — are updating the automat, in which meals are served to customers via vending machine-like lockers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The concept was popular in the first half of the 20th century but slowly fell out of favor, though it still exists in some areas of Europe and in Japan.

Automat Kitchen and Brooklyn Dumpling Shop were both set to open earlier this year — the concept was not a response to the pandemic — but the timeline got pushed back.

Both plan to open by the end of the year, at which point some estimates are that two-thirds of New York restaurants will shutter because of the pandemic.

“In the Covid-19 environment, it’s actually the right concept,” said Automat Kitchen owner Joe Scutellaro. “We didn’t go into this anticipating a pandemic, but here we are.”

Automat Kitchen is designed to work like a traditional automat but with some modern upgrades, including the option to order in advance via smartphone. Customers pick up their food from a locked cubby they open with a unique code, and won’t directly interact with staff.

Brooklyn Dumpling Shop proprietor Stratis Morfogen installed automatic sanitation mists and germ-killing ultraviolet lights in the food cubbies, he told the Journal. Customers will also be able to order remotely.

While Automat Kitchen will employ a handful of kitchen staff to make food, Brooklyn Dumpling Shop’s kitchen is operated by robots supervised by one or two employees. [WSJ] — Dennis Lynch


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