12 Jun: Meet Me At The Automat

Before McDonalds, there was the Horn & Hardart Automat – a chain restaurant featuring  coin-operated glass windows, which opened its first branch in Philadelphia on 12th June, 1902. The business would grow to serve 800,000 people per day.

Customers exchanged nickels for dishes including meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and cherry pie. Beautifully designed with marble counters, stained glass, and chrome fixtures, the venues had an upscale ambiance, but catered mainly to working people, with a notable cult following among struggling artists.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how union pickets and fast food formats eventually caught up with the enterprise; consider the intense nostalgia still strongly felt by the chain’s former customers; and reveal how the whole concept was inspired by a visit to Berlin Zoo…

Further Reading:

• ‘Meet Me at the Automat’ (Smithsonian Magazine, 2001): https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/meet-me-at-the-automat-47804151/

• ‘The Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation’ (HISTORY, 2012): https://www.history.com/news/the-automat-birth-of-a-fast-food-nation

• ‘Hitchcock’s Monologue – The Problem With Automat Diners’ (CBS, 1958):