The Automat (2021) Movie Script

[cheery music]
[coffee trickling]

[soft rumbling]
You're trying to make this
a documentary?
What are you trying
to do with it?
It's gonna be a documentary
trying to figure out
what happened to the Automat.
So how it began,
how it blossomed,
and how it...
how it ended, right?
The big thing is the nickels,
the little windows...
That's the big thing.
It's the Automat.
You can drift a little
to the good old times
back then,
but you've got to concentrate
on the Automat.
I-I will, you know...
I'm gonna give you what I can
in terms of time and effort,
you know,
and I'll try
to write the song for you,
but let's get
some other names,
other people who remember
about the Automat,
'cause it's important.
[wondrous music]

Of course,
when you say Automat
or Horn and Hardart,
very few people know
what you're talking about,
but one
of the greatest inventions
in insane centers of paradise
were these places
that had little glass windows
framed in brass with knobs.
And if you put two nickels
into the slot
next to the windows,
the windows would open up,
and you could take out
a piece of lemon meringue pie
for 10, and you could eat it.
And that was called
the Automat.

I suggest you do some narration
at the beginning just...
to frame
what you're gonna talk about,
you know, with pictures.
You have enough pictures
of Automats?
How you doing, kid?
Let me see
if I can help you out.
- See that?
- All kinds of stuff.
- Let me see.
- Look at that.
I didn't know
he had all this stuff.
Where did you get
all of these photos?
Every time
we built something,
we always saved
all the pictures.
but what possessed you?
You're about 11.
What... what made you even think
about doing a show
about the Automat?
[projector whirring]
Even though Horn and Hardart
only operated in two cities,
in its day
and for many decades,
it was the largest
restaurant chain in America
by any measure.
The number
of restaurants it had,
the number of people
it served every day,
the number of people
it employed.
It was a true phenomenon
of its time.
Well, how about the Automat?
I heard a lot about that place.
It was what Philadelphia
was all about.
When you said Philadelphia,
you said Horn and Hardart.
They were interchangeable.
When you thought
of the Automat,
you thought of New York,
and vice versa.
It was a tourist destination
on par
with the Statue of Liberty.
[horn honking]
The little cubicles that
the food would come out of...
Allow me.
I mean, I've never seen
anything like it.
It was the excitement,
discovery, surprise,
and delight on my first visit
as a young boy
that inspired me
to think about the experience
I wanted to create
at Starbucks Coffee Company.
Is there anything else
that you want?
Yes, I'd like
another cup of coffee.
At your service.
[light music]

I didn't realize how good
it was until, like,
there were no more Automats,
and I miss them.
You might be...
where would you show this?
There are film festivals
all over,
but do they show
this kind of thing?
It'd have to be over an hour
for it to be a documentary
in a... in a theater, you know?
Is there anybody alive
from Horn and Hardart?
I'm standing at the corner
of Third Avenue
and 42nd Street.
This location was
the last Automat that existed.
Do you remember when
the last Automat closed?
Oh, yes.
I closed it.
I'm the one who closed it.
The Automat closing,
said something about the way
that the world was going to be.
They had been the most
optimistic imaginable places.
[indistinct chatter]
But an original Automat
converted to a Burger King.
This was exactly the opposite.
I would like to give you
a turn button
from the very last Automat.
The employees were able
to take pieces of remembrance.
I loved the Automat.

Has anyone given you
any indication
of what their thoughts were
as to why
this whole demise
of the Automat came about?

Now, what do you wanna know?
What's your earliest memory
of going to the Automat?
[soft music]
Well, I was born in 1926
in Williamsburg.
That's Brooklyn.
My brothers:
Irving, firstborn,
there in the back,
Lenny, Bernie,
and me, Melvin.

We were little boys
in Brooklyn,
but if you take the BM and you go across the bridge,
you can get into
this paradise,
this wonderland
called New York.
We... we never called it
We called it New York.
We were Brooklyn,
and they were New York.
And we lived... all of us
lived to get to New York
so that we could visit
the Automat.

There is a thin...
I got a book at home.
There is one little book
about the Automat.
All about starting
in Philadelphia.

So who wants to do...
Probably you should if she's...
- Okay, I'll do... I'll do Horn.
Right. Okay.
Well, Joe Horn came
from Philadelphia.
His two brothers were
in the restaurant business,
and he wanted
a restaurant, too,
so he goes on
a cross-country trip
all over the country
to just sort of figure out
the kind of restaurant
he wanted.
One day, he's in Boston
and he goes to
Thompson's Spa for lunch,
and he sees the way
the place is working,
and he sees these people
being served coffee.
The whole choreography
that just enchanted him,
and the... the bulb clicked
in his head, and he said,
"This is exactly the kind
of place I want to open."
So he put an ad in the paper
saying that he needed someone
to co-partner with him,
and enter Frank Hardart.
My great-grandfather,
Frank Hardart,
he spent his youth
in New Orleans
working in the kitchens
of restaurants.
At the time, New Orleans was
the only city in the country
that was making French pressed
or French drip coffee.
He understood
how special it was,
and he knew that once he got
the rest of the country
to taste it,
they would appreciate it too.
So Frank came up
to Philadelphia
on this mission
to get working in a restaurant
and bring that coffee
from New Orleans
to the city of brotherly love,
but he faced
continual rejection
until, as folklore has it,
he saw an ad in a newspaper.
- And the rest is history.
- And the rest is history.
Yeah, exactly.
They opened their first place
at 39 South 13th Street,
but they didn't
have Automats yet.
Frank was in the back
doing the cooking,
and Joe was out front
tending to the customers.
For Joe Horn,
courtesy was the word.
He was the one driving home
how to create an environment
that was all about
treating people well.
And Frank was focused
on making sure
that everyone got to taste
that wonderful
New Orleans coffee,
and it worked.
[bell dinging]
After a little while,
they opened
another restaurant,
and then another restaurant.
Around the time
Horn and Hardart were opening
their first restaurants
in Philadelphia,
the automatic restaurant
was showing up
in various parts
of Northern Europe.
These restaurants were
basically dumbwaiter systems
where you would order something
in a dining room upstairs,
and that order would be
conveyed to people downstairs
who'd prepare the food
and then send it up
via a small dumbwaiter.
Frank Hardart discovered
this Automat in Germany
and arranged to import
the entire Automat
along with some engineers
to install it
in what was then
the first automatic restaurant
in America.
[swanky music]

So wait,
you're an Automat historian.
How did you pick that
for your PhD dissertation?
That's not a... [laughs]
So that...
I chose the Automat
as a... as a topic.
I was studying to become
a historian of technology.
I needed a topic
for my dissertation,
and I was in Amsterdam
at the time
when I stumbled
across the Automatiek.
That triggered
this vague memory
because my parents took me
to one of... this restaurant
that I thought had
had the same sort of machine,
and when I returned,
I started researching,
and only to discover that
that wasn't
just any restaurant.
That was Horn and Hardart,
and I had my chance
to, like any other kid,
choose from the dozens
and dozens of boxes.
This was the last Automat,
the fourth generation
of that machine.
The first generation
was the one
that Hardart himself
brought back from Germany.
What is, in effect,
the first Horn and Hardart
was not really efficient.
Fortunately, Horn and Hardart
had a chief engineer
named John Fritsche.
Fritsche developed
a lot of patents
related to
the Automat technology.
He introduced the fundamental
innovation of the drum.
He found ways to make them
hold both hot and cold food.
He changed the way
the coin slots worked.
Fritsche came up with
the vending machine wall
and all the little doors.
America at this time
had a real fascination
with machine-age technology,
and anything that acted like
that had a big attraction.
And very quickly,
Horn and Hardart's new Automat
was a success in Philadelphia.
[bright sweeping music]
And the decision to expand to
New York was an obvious one.
It was the next really large
industrial urban center.

And that was the beginning
of one
of the most successful
restaurant chains
in America ever.

My big brother, Irving,
used to come at the beginning
when I was very little,
and he would dole out
whatever it was,
five nickels to each of us.
That was our lunch.
We had to figure out
what we could get for that,
'cause we were poor, you know?
No money,
but that was the great thing
about the Automat.
You didn't need
a lot of money.
You needed a lot of nickels,
but you didn't need
a lot of money.
[peppy piano music]

All right. Recording.
Okay, Lisa Keller. Take one.
The question is, the Automat
hasn't been an active
cultural force in decades,
but it's something that still
resonates with New Yorkers,
and why is that?
Horn and Hardart... oh, okay.
Let me start at the beginning.
Horn and Hardart
is a cultural icon in New York.
In the immigration wave
from 1880 to 1920,
the immigrants
who came to New York
were looking
for something American,
and Horn and Hardart served
as an Americanization process.
If you could go there,
you could feel like
you were part of
the larger American stream.
Horn and Hardart,
like the subways linked us
and were universally
didn't matter whether
you were rich or poor.
When you had to travel,
you took a subway.
When you had to eat, you went
to the Horn and Hardart.
We know you don't need English
because nobody has to speak.
In a land of foreigners,
that became a place
of identification,
and you feel almost patriotic.
[soft music]

At that same time,
a new class of clientele
started to come in the cities,
drawn in by the new office work
that was being created.
They started flooding
into cafeterias
and into the Automats.
Women were just coming
into the workforce.
They were stenographers.
They were sales clerks.
They were secretaries.
Between the 1880s
and 1920 or so,
the number of stenographers
in New York City
jumped from 5,000 to 300,000.
This enormous growth
in the number of women
in the workforce
meant that there was enormous
growth in the number of women
who needed to eat lunch
out of their homes.
- Well, I've had my lunch.
- Good.
But I'll go with you.
Not so good.
Social custom
was changing slowly.
Women started being able
to go out to eat on their own,
and women of the 1920s
went to Horn and Hardart.
It was a place a woman would
feel comfortable and safe,
and they had good quality food.
Yeah, and they didn't have
to worry about tipping.
That was a great thing
about the Automat.
You never had to tip.
It's a very
important marriage
between that... the time
it came into being
and the sensibilities of women
in the workforce.
At that point,
Horn and Hardart in New York,
which had been growing less
quickly than Philadelphia,
started growing very rapidly,
and before long,
there were a couple of dozen
of them throughout the city.
[bright music]

[soft music]

I'll tell you,
the Automat had panache.
The ceilings were big.
These were
enormous buildings.
there was a half balcony.
Grandiose design.
The floors were
pristine white marble.
Brass frames
on the little windows.
Those little doors
and those Carrara
marble tables.
When you looked
at the interior,
you felt that you
could dance in them.
And those dolphin spouts,
nowhere was there
anything like that.
When did the dolphin heads
come about?
Yeah, well,
they were inspired
by Italian fountains with
mythological sea creatures.
Joe Horn,
on a trip to Italy,
had happened to spot
these statutes and says,
"Oh, that's gonna be
my coffee spout."
So that's
where they came from,
but I love the fact
that these two men,
Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart,
built this beautiful,
beautiful space.
All of that beauty so that
someone could walk in there
with a handful of nickels
and get themselves
a cup of coffee or some food.
[light music]

In 1918,
through a twist of fate,
just as the Automat came into
its own, Frank Hardart died.

My great-grandfather Frank
left the company to his sons,
Augustin and Frank,
in New York City.
So it stayed close
in the family.
But at that point,
it had really become
the Hardarts in New York
and the Horns in Philadelphia
because Joe Horn did not want
to come to New York.
Joe Horn
did not like New York.

Mr. Horn was very much
a Philadelphian.
As a matter of fact,
at the end of a long day
in New York,
he would look at everybody
and say,
"Thank God for the train
to Philadelphia."
[laughing softly]
My name is Edwin K. Daly Jr.
I'm the son of the president
of Horn and Hardart,
Edwin K. Daly,
who was president
in New York from 1937 to 1960.
On the phone,
when you spoke of Joe Horn,
you said you met him
when you were young.
I certainly met him
50 or 60 times.
To be clear, though,
he was called Mr. Horn.
Nobody within range of him
referred to him as Joe Horn.
He'd have clobbered
somebody who did.
Mr. Horn
was a very formal man,
very genial, very pleasant,
but very definitely
commanding person.
I always found him very nice.
He certainly established
the company's tradition
of making certain
that Horn and Hardart
was looking out
for its employees.
For Joe Horn,
right from the start,
loyalty was a trademark.
Joseph Horn actually
wanted his employees
to bring their troubles to him.
If he could help them
in any way, he would.
The Horns and the Hardarts,
they went to the wakes.
They went to the weddings.
They went to the funerals.
They had holiday parties.
[upbeat piano music]
You became a member
of a family
when you were employed
at Horn and Hardart.
Joseph Horn started
a foundation
so that when his employees
were short of money,
missed a mortgage payment,
or anything like that,
he was there to help them.
And that inspired loyalty
that went beyond
one generation.
That was the great strength
of the company.
People knew
they were cared about.

[utensils clinking]
[indistinct chatter]
There was a stern woman
with a red face,
and her hair piled up,
and she had a little booth,
and the booth had wood,
and the wood was very smooth
'cause she used it every day,
changing dollars into nickels.
And when my brother, Irving,
gave her a dollar
for all our nickels,
she just reached behind her.
Didn't count a thing.
She grabbed from a bag
a bunch of nickels,
and it was always 20 nickels.
Just flipped them.
It was just magic,
which thrilled me.
[indistinct chatter]
I said, "I wish I had
something like that."
One day, I used to dream,
I would have a gift
to stick my hand
and come up with 20 nickels.
[projector whirring]
[coins clinking]
Look at that.
We had a machine
that counted the nickels.
- Oh!
- Look at this.
There you go. Cool.
So you had to make sure
all of that worked okay?
Oh, yeah,
or they'd lose money.
Oh, wow.
Oh, there you go. Up here.
Remember that sign?
There it is. Sure.
These are all your drums.
- How many years were you?
40 plus?
44... 45.
- And Dad...
- My father had...
Was 44?
My father
was one of the first guys
working for the company
Horn and Hardart,
and I used to come to New York
with him to help him out,
so I learned a lot about
the Horn and Hardart equipment
and how it operated.
[projector whirring]
There's... there's the back,
- Yeah.
- Can you do that?
- Got you.
- I guess...
I'm in charge of all those...
all those drums
and stainless steel stuff.
Look at that.
There's... there's your coffee,
Coming out
of my dolphin head.
I have one upstairs.
There's my dolphin head.
It's amazing, huh?
You put a nickel
into a kind of dolphin...
And you put a cup underneath
the dolphin head's mouth...
And you push
the dolphin's tail.
There's a tube
that comes out of the mouth
that goes into the back,
to the machine...
And coffee would come
into a thick little cup.
Very hot. [laughs]
Then, right at the end,
in an unseen little spigot,
milk would come,
and it would just be
a perfect cup of coffee.
It was very tasty coffee.
- I've been to Paris.
I've been to Vienna.
I've paid $35
for a cup of coffee.
Not half as good as that
nickel Horn and Hardart coffee.
And if I could save
enough nickels,
I could have two cups.
[indistinct chatter]
[projector whirring]
- There's... there's the back.
See it?
- Yeah.
- How it'd do that?
Yep. Got you.
It was my responsibility,
if any machine broke,
those machines
gotta operate right away.
And there's a lot of machines.
[upbeat music]
These things were made
incredibly solidly.
Some of them were made
out of solid brass.
Some of them were made
out of solid nickel.
Well, I was an architecturals
dealer in New York City,
and one day, a scrap dealer
pulled up in his van,
and he said,
"Take a look at this.
You interested in this stuff?"

And it was the Automats,
and he had already taken them
to all
the architectural dealers,
and some of them bought one.
I told him I'd take them all.

So I was restoring
these machines.
I had six of them
in my window.
And on a daily basis,
somebody would walk
into my shop
with their jaw hanging down,
"Is that what I think it is?
Is that the Automat?"
And so many of them
had such strong feelings.
I began to look
into the history
as deeply as I could.

And my responsibility,
I think, about the Automat,
has more to do
with the... the concept
of the Automat than it does
the machines themselves.
It started with
a set of principles.
Mr. Horn and Mr. Hardart said,
"You can do something
the right way.
"You don't have to compromise.
"It's harder that way,
it's more work,
but you can do it,
and you ought to do it."
That's what they said,
and then they proved it
by doing it.
[projector whirring]
Around the turn
of the century,
Horn and Hardart
were already operating
a small chain of stores,
vending mostly baked goods.
[pleasant music]
The problem they had
was that each store
was making its own baked goods
and they didn't have
the consistency
and the high level of quality
they wanted
from one store to the other.
This is what drove them to
start on the commissary model,
the centralization
of the food preparation
for the entire system.
Oh, the Horn and Hardart
you remember the bakery, Dad?
11th... to 12th Avenue.
That's where all
the food came from.
Not all,
let's be clear on that.
There was cooking
in the restaurant,
but a great deal of the food
was prepared,
and all of the baked goods,
of course,
in a central commissary.
With their commissary,
they could make
2,400 pies an hour.
And what Horn and Hardart
was if you did something
on a large enough scale,
you could give people prices
they could afford.
But, to be clear,
it was all about quality.
They had the sample table
every day
in which the management
tasted the food
that was coming
out of the bakery
to make sure that the public
was getting
what the public
was supposed to be getting.
The trucks supplying
the restaurants
numbered in the hundreds
in each city
and drove something
like 2,000 miles a day.
So everything was fresh
and seasonal.
- It was real.
- Seasonal was important,
because that's also the way
they kept the cost down,
because they could buy
seasonal in bulk.

And that's why, if you didn't
have the commissaries,
you wouldn't have
a Horn and Hardart Automat.

The 1930s brought
the Great Depression,
which was damaging
to almost every business.
Horn and Hardart
was a notable exception.
[indistinct chatter]
[soft music]
The Automat
was a welcoming, warm place
in the worst of times.
It appealed to the poor
and downtrodden
because, for a nickel,
you could get a lot.
We were providing good,
cheap, quality food
when people didn't have
a whole lot of money
in their pockets.
Because of its economies
of scale,
because of its ability
to tap into these values
of thrift and abundance,
Horn and Hardart's restaurants
became a beacon and light
in what was otherwise
a really dark decade.
Irving Berlin captured this
by having the Vanderbilts
and others of the very rich
dining in the Automat.
There was Irving Berlin
"Face the Music,"
and the great song
that came from that was...
Let's have
another cup of coffee
And let's have
another piece of pie
[upbeat music]

[crowd chanting indistinctly]
1935 in New York,
and you will recall
that that was an era
of a good bit of labor unrest
to begin with.
There was a unionizing
campaign at that time
which involved
some Horn and Hardart employees.
It was quite violent.
[somber music]

In the end, it didn't work.
That's the simplest way
I can put it.
Our employees stood by us.
They were loyal
to the company.
The company
had been loyal to them.
[upbeat music]

By 1941, Mr. Horn had been
ill for quite some time.

It was very clear
he was going to die.
The day before he died,
Mr. Horn said,
"Look, I know I'm gonna die.
"Get me a Horn and Hardart
beef pie.
I wanna eat that."
And he did.
It helped him die happy.
[soft music]
Horn had no children,
no successors,
but he had been very careful
to groom
one man to take over
in his place.

My father understood
financial matters.
He had the training.
He had a broad vision.
He was intensely loyal
to the company,
and Mr. Horn knew that.
When Daly took over
from Horn
after his death in 1941,
the Horn and Hardart Company
even faster
than they had previously.
[light music]

This was a period
with a great deal of growth.
As a matter of fact,
during the Second World War,
Horn and Hardart supplied
the food on the troopships.
So when the Queen Elizabeth
or the Queen Mary
went out of New York
carrying troops,
they were eating
Horn and Hardart food.

The 1940s and early '50s
was Horn and Hardart
at its finest.

In 1953, the company
served 2,206,000 beef pies,
1,427,000 chicken pies,
10,652,000 dessert pies,
3,388,000 hamburgers,
4,886,000 chopped sirloins,
6,527,000 loaves of bread,
314,000 gallons of baked beans
and 2,355,000 pounds
of macaroni.
That's a lot of food.
And they were feeding
800,000 people a day.
At this time, in terms
of the volume of business
that they were doing,
in terms of the number
of seats,
the number of people
who were being served,
there wasn't anything
to compare
with the Horn and Hardart

Looks pretty fancy, Fred.
Yeah, you get your food
by putting coins in a slot.

Hey, got a nickel, Mac?
Huh? Oh, yeah.
[soft piano music]

On Saturdays,
I took piano lessons
on West 73rd Street,
and on 72nd Street
was an Automat.
I could usually
find a table upstairs
where I could read a book
or do homework
while eating lunch.
You... you found
just the right one.
So the hot table is back here.
On the side,
these are all the cubbyholes
with cakes and pastries.
And these are the dispensers
of coffee, tea, hot chocolate.
When I ask people about
the Automat, they light up,
and I'm just wondering,
why do you think people love
the Automat so much
and remember it so fondly?
It was a good place to eat.
The food was delicious,
the prices were right,
but more than that,
I think it was the fact
that there were all kinds
of people,
from poor people
to matrons in furs.
You're sitting at a table
with a bunch of people,
one of whom
might be a businessman.
Another person
might be a worker.
Another person
might be an artist.
It was an unspoken rule that
if there was no empty table,
you could sit next to anybody
who was already eating.
It was true.
You'd see... at a table,
you'd see a bum
with an empty cup of coffee,
someone on your left,
he'd get some hot water,
and he'd put some mustard
or ketchup in it,
and he'd have, like,
a condiment soup.
There was no question
that the company's policy
was distinctly serve everybody
and serve everybody
the same way.

It was revolutionary
in a way,
very democratic.
This was a remarkable place.
An amazingly optimistic view
of what the future could be.
It said, "There's enough
for everybody."
And it had certain
cultural markers
that made it
a truly American place,
for a non-American audience.
Yes, this is the great USA
with people
of all different colors
and religions
and manner of dress,
and yet we are all together.
[horn honking]
[indistinct chatter]
The one we would usually
go to is the Automat
that was on 42nd Street.
I never even thought
about the fact
that, "I'm a Black kid."
"Should I go
into Horn and Hardart?
Is it okay
to go to the Automat?"
All the Automats had
that beautiful diversity
that didn't exist in most
of the rest of the country,
of economic standing,
of color,
of ethnicity, of language.
You never knew what you'd
run into in an Automat.
Can I adjust your tie
a little to cover your button?
May I?
- Sure.
Okay. You keep scaring me.
What... what's wrong
with a button?
I mean, does it...
Oh, no, no, no,
there's nothing wrong with it.
Mel Brooks is there
looking like a bum,
and... and...
What is that? C...
- There was just a little...
- Cake?
- I just wasn't...
I don't know.
- Could be.
- Were you eating cake?
Yeah, I just came
from Junior's and... okay.
It's good.
So should we...
Come on.
I've got a Colombian ambassador
waiting for me.
Is there any way...
You gotta get
a still of this.
This photo was taken when
I was about seven years old
living in the South Bronx,
immigrant family, not making
a great deal of money.
So you have to understand,
we almost never went
to a restaurant.
I don't ever remember
going to a restaurant
anywhere in the South Bronx.
We always ate at home
or with a relative.
So going to an Automat
was not just the experience
of seeing this mechanized
food delivery system.
It was going to a restaurant,
and as a kid,
it was such a thrill
to walk into this place.
Sparkling. It shone.
I mean, it literally
blasted you with the marble
and the tables
that were marble.
And there is this wall
where little compartments
had the beautiful
chrome-rimmed knobs.
And you knew
there was somebody
behind those little
You never saw them,
but you knew
they had to be there.
And better than that,
the food was good.
The Automat
was where I learned
to like creamed spinach.
Macaroni and cheese.
Automat food
became so recognizable,
the signature dishes.
There's baked beans
and baked beans,
and then there's
Horn and Hardart's baked beans.
I really got excited
about a Salisbury steak.
Oh, don't tell
my mother this.
I liked the ham and cheese
sandwich with mustard.
I think there
was an olive stuck in it.
It was great.
I don't know what Carl ate
at the Automat.
Did you ask him what he had?
It always consisted
of the same thing.
A ham and cheese sandwich,
a cup of very good coffee.
- Carl was much more frugal...
Cheaper than I am.
It was cheap. Very cheap.
Eggs, bacon.
Chicken salad.
I loved the creamed spinach
and succotash
and the sweet things.
One part mashed potatoes,
one part baked beans,
and one part Salisbury steak,
and you've gone to heaven
without dying.
For my family,
it wasn't just the Automat.
It was Horn and Hardart,
because there was also
a retail store
in my neighborhood,
and on the weekends,
on Saturday,
I would usually get a couple
of dollars, and I was told,
"Go get a Horn and Hardart
apple pie."
And that was the height
of the week's experience.
[light music]
Can you describe
the presence
of the retail stores here?
The concept of the retail
stores is very simple.
The idea was we would
sell our food
so that it could
be taken home,
and it was
a very successful move.
The slogan was
"Less Work for Mother."
Less Work for Mother
retail shops.
Everything was fresh.
Everything was made to order.
It was breathtaking.
But they also sponsored
a television show
that was on Sundays
called "The Children's Hour."
Good morning,
and welcome to the famous
Sunday morning
"Children's Hour."
Ed Herlihy,
he was the announcer.
Presented by Horn and Hardart
Automat cafeterias
and Less Work for Mother
Retail Shops.
Today, as every Sunday morning
for over 26 years,
"The Children's Hour"
brings you New York's
most talented children.
I had been a child performer
and I knew some of the kids,
and they could do things I
couldn't even dream of doing.
You belong to my heart
They auditioned hundreds
of children every month.
Now and forever
You'd be surprised how many
people got their start
on "The Children's Hour."
Rosemary Clooney,
Eddie Fisher, Leslie Uggams,
Arnold Stang,
Frankie Avalon,
Bernadette Peters,
Gregory Hines, Madeline Kahn.
- No kidding.
She never mentioned that.
You know,
she was in a lot of my movies
like "Blazing Saddles,"
"Young Frankenstein,"
and many others.
And, of course,
she would come to the Automat.
This portion
of "The Children's Hour"
has been brought to you
by Horn and Hardart Automat
cafeterias and Less Work
for Mother retail shops.
Complete meals
with less work for mother.
even though he was, like,
costarring with Sid Caesar
on the " Show of Shows,"
when he came in
for rehearsals,
he'd been at the Automat
having his breakfast.
Every morning at 9:30,
I had my breakfast.
I was there for a half hour
because I had to get to work
at 10:00.
Mel was one of these guys who
couldn't get to work on time.
So he never had breakfast
at Automats.
I don't remember there ever
being breakfast at the Automat.
I don't remember there ever
being things like waffles.
There may have been
scrambled eggs.
There were a lot
of Broadway types.
Not stars, mind you.
Secondary players, bit players.
- We were...
I guess we were actors.
I'm an actor, not a clown.
- Hide the silverware.
Here come the actors.
- To eat or not to eat.
That is the question.
My actor friends and I would
go to at least three locations
right near the theaters
that I would work at.
We would sometimes go
and get napkins
and put ketchup on the napkins
and pretend that we were
eating the napkins.
You know, the point being
in Horn and Hardart's,
everything tasted delicious,
even the napkins.
Ms. Duncan and I
will be lunching here.
Will you pick us up
in half an hour...
Once in a while, there'd
be a lighthearted movie,
a love story.
They'd use the Automat.
They had lunch there
or something.
- You like chicken pot pie?
- 25?
Doris Day, James Garner,
that kind of movie.
- Where?
- She just went to the Automat.
See, I thought
this was my table.
Mind if I sit down?
- Remarkable.
She never makes a mistake.
Fast as lightning too.
In an average eight-hour day
that girl handles
18,240 nickels.
Ladies and gentlemen,
one of the many pleasures
when a visitor
comes to New York
is going to the many fine
eating places.
[upbeat music]

Hey, you're Bob Hope,
ain't ya?

In an Automat,
by the early '60s,
the Automat had become
incredibly popular.
Jack Benny
liked the Automat.
He decided to launch
a TV series there.
He had a reputation
for being cheap,
and he invited all
the celebrities... Helen Hayes
and people like that in their
long gowns in their tuxedos.
And when they got
to the Automat,
Jack Benny gave them
a roll of nickels.
[indistinct chatter]
[horn honking]
So you said you even
went to Horn and Hardart
in Philadelphia?
- I did.
When I was in Philadelphia,
I went to the Automat.
Philadelphia had
the same thing, the Automat.
And people who came to it
in New York City,
a lot of them don't even know
anything about Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia, they were
more known as Horn and Hardart.
You're going
to Horn and Hardart.
Over the years, even though
to the country, as a whole,
when they thought
of the Automat,
they thought of New York.
In Philadelphia,
Horn and Hardart
couldn't be more popular.
In 1941,
between its restaurants
and its retail stores,
Horn and Hardart was feeding
10% of the population
of the entire city
of Philadelphia.
One of the largest cities
in America at that time.

I moved to Philadelphia
in 1954
as a young 16-year-old.
And because there was not
a lot of money
in the household,
we used to go
to Horn and Hardart's.
For years, I thought
Horn and Hardart's
was only in Philadelphia.
Yes, they had good food,
but it was an important place
for me and other people.
I can say there were parts
of Philadelphia that were
segregated like skating rinks
and bowling alleys.
But Horn and Hardart's
was a nice place
where African Americans
could go and feel dignified.
Even though Horn and Hardart
in the '50s
and early '60s was as big
as it had ever been,
they were no longer making
money the way they used to.
In the late '50s,
we were beginning
to see competition
from a company called
Chock Full o'Nuts.
People could come
into Chock Full o'Nuts,
get some coffee, which is what
they were chiefly named for.
Get out,
spend very little money.
It represented the first
serious competition
we'd had in a long while.
I'd call that
the first cloud in the sky.
[men grumbling]
Every time someone buys
Horn and Hardart coffee,
it hurts us a little.
Horn and Hardart uses
such ridiculously expensive
coffee beans.
We lose money on it.
We could make money by buying
less expensive coffee beans,
but then our coffee
would be less good.
Horn and Hardart coffee:
it's so good,
we lose money on it.
Horn and Hardart was losing money
on every cup of coffee
that they sold.
Post-war inflation made
everything more expensive,
and the nickel was no longer
worth what it once was.
They waited as long as they
could afford to until finally,
Horn and Hardart raised
the price of coffee,
but the vending machine
couldn't take pennies.
So Horn and Hardart
had to go to 10.
They doubled the price.
The results were disastrous.
Number of cups of coffee
sold immediately
dropped from 70 million a year
to 45 million.
[solemn music]
For some reason, there was
this emotional attachment.
Yeah, they were known
for that 5 cup of coffee.
The nickel subway ride
was gone.
The nickel phone call
was gone,
but when the nickel
cup of coffee changed,
it created a very emotional
divide between the Automat
that they knew
what was coming to them.
The beginning of the end.
I mean, it was called
the house that nickels built.

My father fought that battle
to keep it at 5,
and when the decision
was finally made,
he physically collapsed
and required
medical assistance
for several days
while he was flat on his back.
The decision drained him
so much,
but it had to be faced.
[sweeping music]

A quiet revolution
has been taking place
for nearly a decade.
More than a million persons
each year
have pulled up stakes
in the cities...
In 1957,
President Eisenhower
put the interstate
highway system in.
The result was
to encourage businesses
to locate outside
of the center cities.
The center city was no longer
going to be what it had been.
That was a major cloud
in the sky, and of course,
it became a torrent in the sky.
We shall build hundreds
of thousands of homes
during the post-war return
to peacetime activities.
Everyone was racing
toward the suburbs.
Women, for the most part,
were raising families now,
so they weren't
working in the city.
And men who were working
in the city
were not hanging around
for dinner here.
They were going home
to their home-cooked meals.
The romance, the adventure
of choosing from foods
gathered from the four corners
of America.
Also, tastes in food
were changing.
Frozen foods
are the nearest thing
to fresh foods available.
They're convenient, easily
prepared, and palatable.

The people eating out
were younger.
They didn't care
about saving money.
They were willing to spend more
for a service experience.
Thrift started
to become something
that the consumers
were actually turned away by.
We knew that the demographic
patterns were changing.
These were worries.
[indistinct chatter]
March 28th, 1960,
my father unexpectedly died.
My father was a man
who cared about people
very, very strongly.
[soft music]
From the time of Mr. Horn
and Mr. Hardart and my father,
that's what Horn and Hardart
was about.

Employees and customers cared
immensely about the company
because they knew the company
cared immensely about them.
I think you've sensed that
in the interviews you've had.
Be clear that wasn't
just a question
of sitting down
at a business school
and saying, "Well, this
is a good business practice."
It was done
because it was right.

Edwin Daly took the company
from 1941, when Horn died,
into 1960,
when he himself died.
But Daly made a mistake
that Horn had not made.
He didn't prepare the company
for a successor at all.
In the breaking
of the chain of people
with a real commitment
to the Horn and Hardart's
original vision
was a big part of what caused
the problems that followed.

I grew up in Brooklyn,
New York,
and as a young boy,
I had always heard about
New York City and Manhattan.
I must've been about
10 years old
when my Aunt Shirley
took me into Manhattan
for the first time in my life.
She took me
to Radio City Music Hall.
It was amazing.
We got out of Radio City,
and she said,
"I'm gonna take you
to a very special place."
Walked in.
I remember
putting money in the window,
and the next thing I knew,
the window opened,
and I received an apple pie.
And at that age of ten or so,
I was mystified.
How did this happen?
And I remember asking my aunt,
and she said,
"There's a magician
on the other side,"
and I believed that,
and I have never stopped
threading everything
we've done at Starbucks
with that initial experience.
When we had 11 stores
and a hundred people in 1987
and dreaming
about what we would do,
I always had the Automat
in my mind's eye.
How do you create that level
of theater, excitement,
surprise, and delight?
The Automat was something
unique and special.
And really, when I think
about my own career,
despite what we've been
able to dream about
and accomplish at Starbucks,
at the heart of it,
I'm a storyteller
trying to create
a sense of discovery
and romance.
The Automat for me
was a seminal moment
in my childhood,
and I became a merchant
the day that I
was in that Automat.

[quirky music]
When you least expect it,
you're elected
These are people
who are gonna buy a roll.
Now, you can imagine
it's pretty frustrating.
This fellow with a roll...
He's gonna try again,
you know.
He's very, very patient.
Now he tries to return
the two plates.
In the '60s, there was
a group that we organized.
We met on the second floor
of Horn and Hardart's
at 15th and Market,
where there were ideas
about what could happen
if we work hard enough.
And we strategized about
how we would be able
to get into politics.
It was the birth
of the Black political
movement in Philadelphia
which led to my being able to
run for mayor of Philadelphia.
In the 1950s and '60s,
I ate so much
Horn and Hardart's meatloaf.
By 1970,
I really went off meat.
[solemn music]
I was in Vietnam
in the '60s.
When I went in the army,
it was still in the process
of ending segregation.
But I came in from Kelly Street
and Horn and Hardart
and the Automat.
So I knew what diversity
was all about.
So integration
wasn't anything new to me.
I lived in integration.
I was gonna help
transform the army
and make it
understand diversity.

In the '60s, my family
had moved out of the city
to the suburbs
to escape crime.
I had been the victim of crime.
Horn and Hardarts
were beginning to decline.
As people kept
moving to the suburbs,
the breakfast and dinners
and the weekend business
that Horn and Hardart had
always enjoyed disappeared.
They were no longer
serving meals
seven days a week;
they were serving them five,
having a huge impact
on the amount of sales
each restaurant
was able to do.
We needed to reduce
commitment in center cities.
I'm now addressing
Let's face facts.
In 1966, Horn and Hardart
of Philadelphia
closed their central
city commissary
and opened a new one
in the suburbs
that had access
to superhighway routes
and would give them
a broader reach.
But for some reason,
instead of shrinking,
they built themselves
for enormous volumes of food,
and that cost sunk them
into debt from which
they never recovered.
- It was a blunder.
It was overbuilt.
It was badly located.
It was just wrong.
Horn and Hardart system,
the commissary model,
had been a brilliant system.
It worked fantastically well,
as long as everybody went
and ate there,
but when they started
to suffer a drop in volume,
things couldn't be scaled back.

My father became president
of Horn and Hardart
at a very difficult time.
I remember my mom saying
it was sort of like
taking over
the helm of the Titanic.
I don't think those
last several years
were pleasant
for him in any way.
There was a major recession
in the country,
but especially
in New York City,
and Horn and Hardart was a ship
that was taking on water.

The neighborhood declined
very badly
around Union Square.
It was full of homeless
and bums,
but we'd go down to meet
my grandfather at the Automat.
Grandpa liked the Automat.
He was a poor man.
He was a garment worker.
He would sit there
and talk about
how much he hated
the Vietnam War
in Yiddish to his friends
who would meet him there.
[soft music]

One of their hallmarks
was that you could go
and spend a lot of time there,
have a cup of coffee,
meet interesting people,
but the problem was people
were coming and squatting.
So you started to get
homeless people and vagrants
in the Horn and Hardarts,
and so they went from being
these beautiful, clean,
art deco cathedrals
to dirty and smelly
and not a pleasant
place to be.

I was the busboy
at Horn and Hardart 15 Park Row.
My first time really seeing
homeless people
was when I was working down
in that Wall Street area.
The Horn and Hardart was
the place where you could go
and nobody would bother you.
Where you could stay warm
and get out of the cold.
So they would just
sit there all day.
And I would at first
try to get 'em out,
but there was a policy
to just leave people alone.
In fact, sometimes I would
sneak some leftover food
over there... I would do that.
This is me.
I had the fro back then.
And this was my grandmother,
Sarah Perez.
We worked at the same
Horn and Hardart.
She was a nickel thrower.
You know, Horn and Hardart
really cared for people,
and that was something
that just stuck with me.
In fact, I recently retired
after 26 years
of social services in New York,
besides all the other things
I've done in my life.
But that's what
I'm most proud of.
So I loved Horn and Hardart,
and I loved it
since I was a child
because they had
Christmas parties
for the employees' children.

My grandmother took
my brother and me.
We couldn't wait to go
because they would have
all kinds of entertainment
and things for the kids.
Got to see Santa,
sit on his lap,
and get these great toys.
We loved Horn and Hardart,
even in the '60s
when it was kind of rough.
In fact, my grandmother,
she got an award called
"I'm not fancy, but I'm good"
which was an advertising
slogan back then.
How did the campaign
get its name?
It was the age
of the fancy coffee shop.
And so they were fancy
and not very good,
and Horn and Hardart,
the food was wonderful,
but the experience
that people had in there
was not always the best.
There's a story
about a Southern girl
who came to New York.
She said,
"I went into a Horn and Hardart,
"and I tried the baked beans,
and mmm, they were fine,
"and the... the candied
sweet potatoes,
"they were just like down home.
"And then I had some of that
lemon meringue pie,
"and... and then the man sitting
across the way from me,
he... he flopped it out
right in my pie."
Hey, Barn, disturbance in
the Automat over on Tenth.
- What kind of disturbance?
- Some guy's raising hell.
The Automat on Tenth?
he took his clothes off.
He's running around naked.
Well, that was the story
of Horn and Hardart.
You know, you'd go in there,
the food would be great,
and then you'd have someone
do something like that.
So I came up
with this campaign
for a product
that had its flaws.
These days, it's not enough
to have a restaurant
with good food and low prices.
You have to have
atmosphere too.
Trouble is,
this junk costs money,
and to pay for it,
you have to raise the prices
or cut the quality of the food.
But if you don't have
quality chandeliers
or canned music,
you can put the money you save
into better quality food.
We think that's more important.
You can't eat atmosphere.
I was born in the Bronx.
I grew up in Horn and Hardart's,
and it was always
a great treat for me
to go into those places.
So this campaign,
it had an extra level
of meaning for me.
You know,
we tried to resurrect it.
We did what we could.
[solemn music]
This campaign was the closest
thing to self-expression
that I could ever have
in advertising,
I think, because it meant
so much to me.

It was absolutely the closest
to my heart because...

'Cause it's New York.

It was a sad day
when I would go
and look for Horn andHardart's
and saw a sign...
"We're closing."
The closing of the Automat
located at 818 Chestnut Street
marks the passing of the old
and the advent of the new.
$271,000. Hold on!
America's first Automat
today was put on
the auctioneer's block.
The building and most of
the equipment, that is.
$271,000. Hold on!
Once, twice,
third and last time.
Hold on!
Right there.
- There it goes!
[soft music]
For my father,
it was the family company,
and it had his family
name on it,
and it had been around
for a very long time.
So to be in a position
to do that
must've been
really difficult for him.

Horn and I used to have
lunch once in a while,
and I can still remember him
calling me and saying,
"John I'm gonna be packing up."
The real estate
became the most valuable thing
that Horn and Hardart had.
Great real estate
throughout New York City,
and they leveraged that
real estate by franchising.
I think he felt like
the company and its core
and its soul was being gutted,
and its spirit.

It had been
not just a business,
it was a point of view.
It was almost a philosophy,
which these gentlemen,
Mr. Horn and Mr. Hardart,
had embraced and projected
through these places.
Not just making money
for themselves,
but really providing
the public
with what they needed
at the same time.
And I think the Automat proved
that there doesn't have to be
a contradiction
between those two notions,
and these people expected this
to last forever.

I came in at the tail end
of the Automat.
I had gone to the Automats
many times during my lifetime,
and here I was in the position
of being the undertaker
converting the Automat
into Burger Kings
and other restaurants.
Horn and Hardart,
Burger King, Arby's.
- Yup.
- Bojangles.
Bojangles, I remember.
- Mark Twain and Goodbody's.
- Hmm.
There I am, and this
is my little crew, right here.
John was in charge
of maintenance.
He was in charge
of construction.
He was in charge
of everything.
And John was sort of reluctant
about moving forward
because he had
a sentimental attachment.
What he had before was beauty.
What he had before
was elegance,
versus what I was creating.
I was creating nuts and bolts,
and he was wine and flowers.
But the people that were now
sitting around the table
making decisions
were not Automat people.
They were fast food people.
I was moving ahead,
and I was part of progress.
I appreciate the old,
but you have to move forward.
The Automat was archaic
at this point.
[somber music]

They date way back to 1912.
They were the place
where nickels went for lunch.
They were the Automats,
and now there's only one,
the last Automat.
Horn and Hardart's on 42nd street
where the Third Avenue El
used to cast a shadow.
My mother brought me here
when I was a little girl.
I brought my children here.
I had one friend who... who
loved the macaroni and cheese.
She was a little bit hefty.
I used to sit there,
and at nighttime, all night,
because I had no place to go.
You know,
I was one of the homeless,
and I used to sit in there,
but they never threw us out
or anything.
Oh, forget about it,
are you kiddin' me?
Baked beans were the best.
A nickel, no?
You don't get nothing
for a nickel today.
These days,
the Horn and Hardart Company
is mainly concerned with its
much faster food franchises,
operating more than
250 Arby's, Burger Kings,
and Bojangles.
People think the Automat
was a precursor to fast food.
I wouldn't have
called it fast food.
Fast food is more simplified,
and that has to do with speed.
The Automat
was about many things,
but it was not about speed.
Horn and Hardart, you knew
what you were going to get.
Fast service? Yes.
But Horn and Hardart
was not fast food.
We were above all
about good quality.
You don't go to McDonald's
for top-quality food.
And Horn and Hardart also had
a much wider range of foods.
I'm sure you've heard
in your interviews,
people thinking about
Horn and Hardart beef pies
or Horn and Hardart
creamed spinach
or Horn and Hardart
chocolate pudding,
to Horn and Hardart this,
that, or the other thing.
A vast variety of...
- Carl liked baked beans.
We both loved baked beans.
He loved cream spinach,
I liked cream spinach,
but mostly,
we really loved the pies.

The strawberry rhubarb...
great crust.
Great tartness in the rhubarb.
The strawberries
were sweetened with sugar.
If we didn't have that,
we settled for an apple pie,
which was also very good.
Lemon meringue
not only looked big,
but you could smash
your face into it.
Chocolate pudding pie,
which only came in the winter.
Carl mentioned, probably,
the chocolate pudding pie
with the... with the cream.
He liked that.
We waited patiently
all year for it.
That was the best pie.
Really, it was nothing like
their coconut custard pie.
It was truly heaven.
I mean, how could anybody
even think
of putting together
the coconut and the custard
and the cream and...
coconut custard pie.
God made that.
[swanky music]

I think this
was the very last Automat.
That's the one on
42nd Street and Third Avenue.
The last place I closed out.
They said close that one down
yourself personally.
And that completed my cycle.
The door's slammed shut
on a piece
of New York restaurant history
as Horn and Hardart
closed the last of its famous
Automats in Midtown Manhattan.
In years past, there were
more than 40 Automats
scattered all around town,
but as fast food restaurants
proliferated in Midtown,
the popularity of the chain
lost favor with the public,
and now it's gone forever.
[solemn music]

That was the end,
and it was too bad,
because it was such
a great experiment.

It had some style,
and it was different.
The marble, the brass,
the floors, the pillars,
the chatter, the coffee.
It was the Automat.
And even though
it was beautiful,
it... it can't work again
because of the logistics
and the economics of today.
Won't allow anything that
simple, naive, and eloquent
and beautiful
to flourish again.

It was part of my youth
that I really loved.
I loved the Automat.
I wish somebody
could bring it back,
but I don't know...
That lady isn't there anymore
who can give you
20 nickels, so...

They should have
never closed.
I had a warehouse
loaded with the equipment
with the key.
I think I have a key.
I wonder if the stuff
is still there yet.
I'm talking about a load.
[wondrous music]

- Life changes.
Things change.
We all get a little older,
but the older you get,
the more you reflect back on,
you know,
what came in the beginning,
and the Horn and Hardarts
and the Automats of the world.
It was
a remarkable institution
that meant a lot
to those of us
who are New Yorkers
or those in Philadelphia
that had the same experience.
It took a while for society
to get it right.
Even when I moved
to Washington, D.C. in 1980,
many of the clubs
were closed to women.
So my practice was,
I wouldn't speak at any venue
that didn't admit people
without regard
to race, gender.
People from all walks of life.
One of the great things
about being
a historian of the Automat
is the reaction that people
have when I mention it.
Big smile blossoms
across their face
as, suddenly, they're
cast back to the days
when they were getting
their pie
or a cup of coffee
out of that dolphin head.
Those little knobs and doors
were a gimmick,
but the place
became something different.
From Edward Hopper's painting
of the isolated woman
to my grandfather sitting
in the Horn and Hardart,
it became a place
that everybody could go to.
The generosity of spirit
was sublime,
and people got that.
And as a result,
they owned the Automat.
They felt a very strong
affection for it.
Horn and Hardart
was about the people,
and I'm glad
to have been part of it
and part of this documentary.
High five.
Horn and Hardart rocks. [laughs]
It seems very much like
the... the Automat
was a melting pot
and kind of an equalizer
of its time,
and I... I thank you so much
for taking the time
to... to meet with me.
You're more than welcome.
I think this
is a wonderful project.
- So I wonder if you think it...
if it still lives on,
and I wonder
of what you think...
What the message or the lesson
can be learned from this.
You know my feelings.
I remain very loyal
to the concept
of what Horn and Hardart was.
Could you maybe think
of some modern reincarnations?
Where... where do you see
that kind of idealism today?
Well, I think the idealism
was infused
into the lives of the people
who experienced the Automat.
In terms of institutions today,
I wonder.
This is a picture
of the Automat
that I keep on a wall
in my office
as a constant reminder
of the theater, the romance,
and the sense of discovery
that existed in the Automat.

I think the principles
that they pioneered
and the ideals that they had
are still alive today.
Anybody can do anything
and embrace the notion
that you can be successful
by being as inclusive
as possible,
as democratic as possible,
as generous as possible,
and still make it.
[sweeping music]

Well, I wish you
great good luck
with this adventure.
Use everything I've said.
I'm popular, I'm famous,
and make me the spearhead
of selling
this meshugganah documentary.
Thank you so much.
All right,
I'm leaving you now.
Thank you.
And I'll be in touch.
I'll be calling
every once in a while.
"Anything happen?"
Some people
just adore martinis
Others love iced tea
In Venice,
they all go for Bellinis
But coffee
Ah, that's for me
I've tasted
every kind of brew
At every coffee shop
Some were good,
and some were great
But this one was the top

There was nothing like
the coffee at the Automat
Its aroma
and its flavor was supreme
From a silver dolphin spout,
the coffee poured right out
Not to mention, at the end,
a little spurt of cream
There was nothing like
the coffee at the Automat
Nothing fancy
or pretentious like today
You have to understand
They had no latte grande
No quizzical baristas
in your way
There was nothing like
the coffee at the Automat
You would find a seat,
hang up your coat and hat
And for just a shiny nickel
Your taste buds
you could tickle
With that wonderful,
magnificent, unbelievable
Awesome coffee
At the Automat