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Published: Tuesday, 7/3/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

Coming soon: Pizza on demand

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

On May 24, 1844, Samuel F.B. Morse sat down in the U.S. Supreme Court and ceremoniously tapped out the first telegram: "What hath God wrought."

It's a fitting and poignant quotation from the Book of Numbers, used by Morse to show the belief that a fierce and omniscient divinity guides mankind to develop new technologies.

It is as true today as it was then. For surely the hand of the Almighty must have had a role in creating the latest merger of technology and sustenance because only divine omnipotence could have led us to the place where automation and mechanization are used to feedeth the hungry.

We are talking here, it goes without saying, about pizza vending machines.

In the very near future -- late November or early December -- hungry people across America will be able to walk up to a bright red Let's Pizza vending machine, stick in a few bills (or even a credit card), and walk away less than three minutes later with a hot, freshly made pizza pie.

This is either the coolest idea since the invention of toast, or the most horrendous food failure since celery-flavored Jell-O.

Your initial reaction may very well be: "There is no possible way this tastes good." It was certainly mine.

But now I'm not so sure. Most promisingly, the thing was invented by an actual Italian -- like, an Italian Italian, though admittedly he was in America when the idea first came to him. Originally, the machine would sell pasta, but then he thought that pizza had more of a worldwide appeal.

And that's the other reason for hope: It's already doing well in other places, including Italy. More than 200 of the machines are throughout Europe, with more than 100 in South America, said Vincent Mancebo, vice president of operations and administration in North America for Smart4Retail, the company that makes them.

The biggest selling point is that the pizzas are actually made fresh. You put in your money (the cost is up to the operator, but it will probably be between $6 and $7.75) and the machine goes to work mixing flour with water and turning it into a dough. The dough is pressed into a thin crust, squirted with a tomato sauce, topped with your choice of cheese, pepperoni, ham, sausage, or bacon, and then baked in an infrared oven at 350° for one minute. It is then slid into a pizza box, and it all comes out of a slot in the front of the machine.

Windows show the process as it happens, so you can follow along. I might shell out the six or seven bucks just to watch it.

According to Mr. Mancebo, the vending machines are entirely self-contained; they do not even have to be hooked up to a water line. The water and all the other ingredients are kept refrigerated inside the machine, where they can stay fresh for up to 30 days. But they don't stay there that long, Mr. Mancebo said, because the machines have enough ingredients for 100 pizzas, and most have been selling an average of about 40-45 a day.

And that's in other countries. In pizza-lovin' America, Mr. Mancebo expects them to sell about 50 a day. The idea is to put them in places with a lot of foot traffic, such as shopping centers, airports, hotels, convenience stores, and industrial zones.

And don't forget college campuses. Can you imagine how well they will do on college campuses? Even bad pizza can make an all-nighter seem less tedious.

The first machines were scheduled to arrive in this country this week, and the company is busy trying to entice operators in all 50 states. They have fielded inquiries from Ohio, but no one has yet made a firm commitment to buy or rent them, Mr. Mancebo said. However, several people in Michigan have signed up. Because operators can place them anywhere they want, subject to Smart4Retail's approval, the company does not yet know where they will be.

Celery-flavored Jell-O, by the way, is a real thing. It was introduced in the early 1960s. It did not make it to the late 1960s.

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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