(Original Caption) 10/20/1950-New York, NY: Help yourself is the theme in the city's many Automats, where the speed of service depends on the customer herself.
Food - Drink
NYC's Automats Were Iconic For Good Food, Better Coffee, And Inclusivity
After the success of the first Automat Lunch Room in Philadelphia in 1902, the company Horn & Hardart quickly expanded to New York’s Times Square and created an instant hit. The documentary “The Automat,” directed by Liza Hurwitz, takes a closer look at how these eateries became an epicenter for food, coffee, and inclusion.
Automats featured windowed, coin-operated boxes containing hot meals, and had an army of workers behind the scenes constantly making fresh food. These eateries were popular with the working class since they could get food for just nickels, as well as high-quality coffee dispersed from a chrome spout in the shape of a dolphin’s head.
At the height of the Automat’s popularity, it served 800,000 people a day, with wealthy investors sitting alongside blue-collar workers. However, while people of all backgrounds mixed at the inclusive Automat, the workers behind the scenes suffered at their own expense, since they were paid below minimum wage and had to work overtime.
In “The Automat,” famous people from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Colin Powell speak about their love of the democratic Automat. Powell speaks of feeling welcome at the Automat despite being a Black child from the Bronx whose family couldn’t afford to dine in formal restaurants, reminding us of how impactful these unique eateries were.