What do a trip to Amsterdam, a doctoral dissertation, self-service checkout lines, and an ad on Craigslist.org have in common? They're the impetus behind a new business concept that, in just its first few months, has already been touted by CNN, Forbes, GQ, and the New York Times. Actually, Bamn!, which occupies a busy corner in New York's East Village, offers a new twist on an old idea: the Automat. A sort of vending machine for hot meals, the Automat first appeared in 1901 but had all but vanished by the late '60s. Today it's back, and it may soon be coming to a city near you, thanks to three young entrepreneurs who are attracting hordes of curious consumers. We recently spoke with Bamn! founders David Leong and Robert Kwak about their recipe for success.
How did you come up with the idea for Bamn!?
Leong: It was during a vacation in Amsterdam, where Automats are quite common. My friends joke that instead of seeing food, I saw a business plan.
Did you research the Automats of old, or did you take a totally fresh approach?
Leong: We spent about a year looking into the history of the Automat. We referenced numerous texts, including Alec Shuldiner's 2001 doctoral dissertation on Automats.
What accounts for Bamn!'s early success?
Leong: We serve good food at great prices at clean, fun locations where our customers work, shop, and play.
Kwak: Automation is becoming more and more popular - for example, self-checkout counters at grocery stores. People want the convenience of choice without having to interact with another human being, which may cause a delay or confusion.
Kevin Reilly, executive chef of the Water Club, is in charge of your food. How did you hook up with him?
Kwak: Through Craigslist. We posted an ad asking if anyone could create the ultimate croquette, and Kevin answered back simply: yes.
What's the inspiration behind the menu items you choose?
Leong: One of the common themes is what we term the cravability factor. We'll ask questions like, how well does it hit the spot? And, will you want another one?