Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Vending machines may be shaped like a box, but the thinking behind them is outside the square.

italian pizza man vending machine cartoon

Ross Greenwood: George Pompei, go on, tell me, have you got a pizza chef, a little one, stuck inside that vending machine, cooking the pizzas? 

George Pompei: Well it’s funny you should mention that, because you see a lot of people go behind the machine and try to peer inside and check out what’s going on in there. Actually the hardest part was coming up with an oven [in the machine] that could replicate the parameters of a wood-fired oven. And with a lot of research we cracked it.

Ross: So are the pizzas pre-prepared? 

George: We employ all the same techniques as our pizza shop in Bondi. The pizza dough rests for 48 hours before being topped with ingredients and partly baked in a stone oven. We prepare them fresh every day and restock the machine every morning.  You can select a margherita or hot salami. A robotic arm takes the pizza from the super-chilled area, it passes into our hi-tech oven [which heats to 300°C] and it starts to cook. In three minutes it emerges from the slot. So it is freshly cooked in the actual machine. For us, the one criteria was that the product had to be the same quality that we’re proud of at our Bondi store. It has given us an ability to provide lovely crisp pizzas at multiple locations.

The uptake has been phenomenal... people have been doing double takes.

- George Pompei, Pompei's

Ross: So how’s it been going?

George: The actual uptake has been phenomenal. People have been walking by, doing double takes, looking at the machine. Taking photos, and posting on Instagram and Facebook. And when people try it they’re genuinely really surprised at the quality of the pizza. We’re charging $12 [for each 11-inch pizza]. The same quality pizza of the same size is selling for $20-plus in our pizzeria at Bondi. Of course that’s with table service and all the trimmings. 

Ross: But the beauty of it is, if you’ve got this going on, you don’t have to employ a waiter or a waitress. You really don’t have to pay a lot of the rent. So there’s a whole lot of business costs that are missing. 

George: You’re correct. It’s scalable, too, because of that. The footprint of the machine is only 1.3 square metres. Even if you’re charged quite a high rate for rental, the actual footprint is quite small. But because the product that goes in is all hand prepared, handmade, it still takes quite a lot of effort to produce it, although it’s certainly a lot less than a traditional bricks-and-mortar setting.

Ross: Can you set the machine from your shop in Bondi?

George: Yes, it’s all computer controlled. There are parameters which I can set on the oven, in terms of how hot it is, when it comes on, the top element, the bottom element. And I get alerts on my phone when the pizzas are about to run out. The machine holds 84 pizzas and when there are 10 left the machine sends me a message. The machine is completely diagnostic. It reports to me every hour.

Ross: So this is the future of pizza?

George: Oh no, there’s always room for a traditional-type restaurant. [But] it allows us to produce a really high-quality product and have it in locations where that sort of product is not accessible. We’re very happy with what’s happened so far.

Verdict

With machine-to-machine technology getting better and better, vending machines don’t need to be restricted to chips and chocolates. We might soon be buying our dinner with the press of a button, just like The Jetsons. George Pompei has hit on an innovative way to expand his business to shopping centres and transport hubs, without the expense of setting up more shopfronts.

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