PARIS - Diners in Paris are flashing back — and forward — to the era of the automat, but this time with a nod to organic farming.
A precursor to the era of fast food, automat eateries served hundreds of thousands of customers a day throughout the mid-20th century, allowing on-the-go diners to pick hot dishes from coin-operated metal lockers. Today, entrepreneurs in France and Scotland are appropriating the concept that once symbolized modernity to help customers get back to the land. Their automats offer fresh and local produce and other ingredients.
Joseph Petit employs no staff at his two Paris stores. Both called Au Bout du Champ — “at the end of the field” — the small spaces are stacked with metal cubbies containing just-picked strawberries, hours-old eggs, and neat bunches of carrots or spring onions, depending on the season. Customers simply choose the box that contains the food they want to buy, then pay at a console which then opens the appropriate door.
It’s a system, Petit said, that brings fresh food to urban areas where few other options exist, while also supporting local, small-scale agriculture.
“We have some of the best farmers in the world,” the 31-year-old said outside one of his two shops. “But unfortunately, we consume many of our products from abroad. They aren’t necessarily the best, they aren’t necessarily fresh, and we don’t really know who cultivated them.”
Petit also maintains direct relationships with the half-dozen or so producers he buys from.