The automat, an iconic modern concept of informal restaurant dining in the early years of the 20th century, is being reimagined with the launch of the Automat Kitchen in Jersey City. Nestled on the street level of Newport Tower, near the Hudson River waterfront (a stone’s throw from the Pavonia/Newport PATH station and the Newport light rail station), the eatery held a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony on January 26, with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop as the guest of honor.

Automat Kitchen Exterior
Automat Kitchen exterior. Photos courtesy of MST Creative PR, New York.

The new automat is the creation of principal owner, Joe Scutellaro, who grew up in neighboring Hoboken and enjoyed eating at automats in New York City during the 1960s. Scutellaro savors those fond memories—the food as well as the unique restaurant experience—and determined that as a 21st-century entrepreneur he would reinvent the concept with a contemporary, high-tech twist.

Back in the Day

One hundred years ago, urban diners in New York and Philadelphia would visit the novel automats; glistening restaurants with large picture windows and Art Deco architectural facades and interior designs. Patrons could select coffee and pre-made sandwiches, pie, cake, hot food and other goodies from a wall of many individual glass compartments.

The process was simple, quick, and easy: drop in a coin, open the glass door, and remove the food item of choice. Today it sounds quaint, but at the time this was considered to be a major innovation in self-serve fast food.

Chicken Dinner and Other Dishes
Chicken dinner and more. Photos courtesy of MST Creative PR, New York.

A Fresh Idea

The Automat Kitchen takes the original automat concept and modernizes it as a fully contactless dining experience, which will offer fresh, made-to-order comfort food. Scutellaro and his associates have designed custom hardware and patented software to make the process of ordering and pickup seamless. Customers can order in advance on their phone or online, or in person by scanning a QR code to connect to the menu and ordering system. There are also kiosk screens at the location where orders can be placed. The orders can be scheduled for a specific time for pickup.

Spiced Cauliflower
Spiced cauliflower. Photos courtesy of MST Creative PR, New York.
Quirino Silva is the consulting chef in charge of the menu development and staff training at the Automat Kitchen. The menu will feature creative American classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The selection includes pastrami Reuben flatbread; Frito pie burrito; salads; chicken pot pie with vegetables; puff pastry and creamy gravy. Other options include spiced roasted cauliflower with turmeric; Garam masala, sweet potato and cilantro; Massaman curry pot roast with sweet potato; cauliflower, carrot; and a half-rotisserie chicken dinner with black beans, brown rice and spicy Sofrito sauce. The options continue with Atlantic Salmon with miso roasted broccoli and ancient grains; a waffle sandwich with breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs and maple syrup. In addition, guests can choose from smoothies including the Hulkster, packed with kale, avocado, green apples, spinach and spirulina (a blue/green algae superfood).
Carnitas Flatbread
Carnitas Flatbread-Photos courtesy of MST Creative PR, New York

Slow and Steady

Like most other New Jersey restaurants during this season of uncertainty, Scutellaro and his associates have faced their share of challenges. The Automat Kitchen was initially slated to open its doors in April 2020. Unfortunately, those plans were put on hold due to the mounting health concerns caused by the global pandemic.

The automat concept dates back to Berlin in the 1890s. Several websites credit partners Joe Horn and Frank Hardart with opening the first United States automat in Philadelphia on June 12, 1902. The first New York automat opened on July 12, 1912. There were automats throughout these metropolitan hubs, with the last one closing in New York, in 1991. The automat became a beloved, nostalgic symbol of American culture as it was featured in movies and served as an inexpensive outlet to feed people during the Great Depression years.

Automat Kitchen
Newport Tower
525 Washington Blvd.
Jersey City, NJ

Monday to Friday: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

Editor’s note: Hours and menu items are subject to change.