This Pasta Vending Machine Makes Buying a Restaurant Meal Kit Even Easier
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced restauranteurs to adapt in all sorts of creative ways—whether it's selling groceries to bring in extra income or using mannequins as social-distancing seat fillers. One thing most restaurants have had to do is put more emphasis on delivery and takeout. And with the Washington, D.C.-based Stellina Pizzeria opening a second location in Arlington, Virginia, they've already introduced a solution that makes walking away with their food easier than ever before: a pasta vending machine.
This custom-made vending machine—which can currently be found outside of Stellina's forthcoming Shirlington location even though the restaurant itself won't open until February 12—was the brainchild of co-owner Antonio Matarazzo, who—as a native Italian—was exposed to the more liberal use of vending machines found in other parts of the world. "While vending machines in the States stock the basic snacks and soda, you can get wine, sandwiches, and all kinds of other stuff in machines across Europe and Japan," he told me via email. "There's definitely room for vending machines to grow in popularity here."
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Matarazzo and co-owner Chef Matteo Venini saw the perfect opportunity to test that theory. "We first got the idea for the vending machine in March. The pandemic had just hit the East Coast, and we were looking for creative ways to deliver food to our guests," Matarazzo explained. "We found a company in California that builds custom vending machines for places like gyms that want to sell food items beyond just candy bars and bags of chips. All they needed were the measurements of our packaging, like jars for sauces, boxes for our pasta kits, etc., to build the unit."
Eleven months later, their dream is now a reality, stocked with Venini's family-size pasta kits for options like cacio e pepe and pomodoro or bolognese and lamb ragu, as well as simpler items like jars of homemade sauces, fresh pastas, ready-to-eat jars of tiramisu with spoons, DIY cannoli, and even charcuterie. "The machine is refrigerated to keep the products at the proper temperature, and there's a lift with foam cushioning on the bottom to keep the breakable items like jars intact when the belt pushes them out," Matarazzo said. The machine's built in LED screen also displays cooking instruction if you want to take a snapshot with your phone.
For now, the machine doling out food from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and until 9 p.m. on weekends, but those hours will shift to regular business hours once the actual restaurant is open (meaning the vending machine will operate for an hour later each day). And Matrazzo already has ideas moving forward. "We plan to keep expanding the kinds of products we stock—maybe moving into wine, pizza kits, and other items," he told me, "and installing additional machines in office buildings."