Trivia question: Who were Horn & Hardart?
- ___ British astronomers that discovered Uranus.
- ___ Kurt Cobain’s first booking agents.
- ___ Restaurateurs that opened the first U.S. automat.
- ___ American inventors of the “hookless fastener” (a.k.a. zipper).
- ___ Guinness World Records holders – most pubs visited (46,495).
Answer: 3.) Restaurateurs that opened the first U.S. automat.
An automat is a fast food, self-service restaurant that serves food and beverage via vending machines (prepared items displayed behind glass windows and coin operated slots). Horn & Hardart, inspired by the German concept, opened their first automat restaurant in Philadelphia in June of 1902. They expanded to New York City ten years later in July of 1912. Their concept’s popularity peaked during the Depression; macaroni and cheese, baked beans, creamed spinach, coffee and pies were their top selling items. Eventually the automats, the company and the Horn & Hardart brand went kaput a century later.
I know about Horn & Hardart thanks to my personal historian, my Mom. When she was first married, and living in Massachusetts, every time she went to New York to visit my Dad’s parents, they would stop at Horn & Hardart, loaded with nickels, to treat themselves to pie and coffee. Back in December I was reminded about Horn & Hardart when I read an article in the New Yorker about a new concept being launched by a former Google programmer, a vegetarian chain called Eatsa. Guests order their food via their mobile phone ap or instore iPad kiosk (a menu consisting primarily of quinoa bowls) and then the food is delivered via vertical cubbyholes when your name pops up on a LCD screen. Fast, convenient, healthy and cashless. Easta, an automat resurrection, a restaurant concept for the future.
Horn & Hardart were definitely skating back at the turn of the 20th century to where the puck was going to be.