Opening a restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic is risky. Opening an automat sounds downright crazy.
But Stratis Morfogen is betting his Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, which launched last week on New York’s Lower East Side, will be a winner. The dumplings were already the star attraction at Morfogen’s Financial District Asian-fusion restaurant, Brooklyn Chop House.
“I wanted to bring them to a fast-food concept,” he said. “But what I came to understand is that so many fast food places fail because of excessive payroll.” With inexpensive products and razor-tight margins, paying a large staff can quickly land you in the red.
“I don’t need cashiers. I don’t need logistical personnel,” Morfogen told Grub Street’s Rachel Sugar of his dumpling automat. “When I walk into a Starbucks or a Chipotle, I cringe. I don’t understand why we still have cashiers at any fast-food restaurant.”
Dumplings from the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop.
Which is why, as the world emerges from the Covid pandemic, an automat concept actually makes sense: The shop is COVID-ready, with walk-through temperature scanners, locker-disinfecting sprays, and UV lights that Morfogen says will kill anything on your clothing.
He proudly touts the “zero human interaction” throughout the process: Rather than dealing with a cashier, customers order and pay at a touchless kiosk or from their own phones with a QR code. And a text notification lets you know your order is ready and waiting in the 11-foot-tall wall of heated lockers.
Morfogen’s automat concept actually predates COVID—Brooklyn Dumpling Shop was originally going to open in May 2020, but was pushed back a year by the lockdown.
“If you understand the history of the automat, it was the most cost-efficient way to serve food,” he said. “At its peak, [the historic automat company] Horn and Hardat was selling something like 800,000 meals a day.”
Morfogen, with a package of dumplings—along with an image of Audrey Hepburn and a classic Coca-Cola sign.