Vending Machine Hot Dogs: Grilled, Ready to Go

Washington Post Express
February 25, 2008
by Marc Zawel

Photo by Marc Zawel for Express

THE VENERABLE VENDING MACHINE
has come a long way from its days as a dispenser of caffeinated beverages and sugary snacks to D.C’s office workers. First, there was the arrival of high-tech machines at Dulles International Airport that allowed flight-boarding commuters and travelers to purchase Apple iPods and accessories with the swipe of a credit card. Now, Alexandria-based LHD Vending Systems has its eyes set on a new and unusual, product: freshly grilled hot dogs.

The company’s machines have been popping up at locations around the nation’s capital. As of last week, there were three on Capitol Hill — including in the Cannon and Longworth office buildings — and two at the National Zoo. And they’ve been attracting plenty of consumer interest, and subsequent quarters, since their arrival last fall.

“They’ve been hugely popular,” said Andrew Shoaff, LHD’s vice president of sales and marketing. “This city has never seen a vending machine that produces a fresh, hot meal before.”

The Washington-Baltimore area was the third-largest consumer of hot dogs in the United States last year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. “Hot dogs are local,” Shoaff said, which means that while New Yorkers favor Sabrett, residents here are more into Oscar Meyer and Nathan’s. His company’s machines offer three options: a Hillshire Farms Cheddarwurst, a Kunzler smoky all-beef and a standard Oscar Meyer. They range in price from $2 to $3.

How does it all work?

A window on the machine offers a front-row seat. Pop in quarters or a couple dollar bills, make your selection and the automated vendor comes alive. An individually wrapped, fresh dog is removed from the refrigerator and grilled with infrared technology.

Meanwhile, a vacuum-sealed bun is placed in a warming tray. In less than a minute, the two come together, a drawer of condiments is opened and all is ready to be consumed.

This writer found his Kunzler hot dog ($2.50) to be quite tasty — the bun was nicely warmed, and the dog had the taste and texture of one just removed from an outdoor grill. Unfortunately, a yearning for sauerkraut couldn’t be fulfilled (it spoils easily, Shoaff explained), but all told, it was a satisfying, quick and easy meal.

LHD plans to have 50 machines in the District by the end of this year. Asked whether this might compete with the many hot dogs carts around the area, Shoaff said that those vendors “tend to serve a different niche.”

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