2021, U.S., 79 min, DCP, Dir Lisa Hurwitz, Not Rated, A Slice of Pie Productions
"An engrossing tale of commercial expansion, industrial innovation and cultural harmony." —Wesley Morris, The New York Times
"The Automat taps into so many resonant aspects of what America used to be that to watch it is to be drawn into an enchanting and wistfully profound time-tripping reverie." —Owen Gleiberman, Variety
The Automat recounts the lost history of the iconic restaurant chain Horn & Hardart, which served affordably priced quality food to millions of New Yorkers and Philadelphians for more than a century. Founded by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart in 1888, it revolutionized the nation's restaurant scene with comfortable interiors, quality food, and state of the art technology. The chain served many groups of people who were often not welcome in other restaurants at the time, including immigrants, the working class, African Americans, and women.
Horn & Hardart's technology captured the public's imagination like nothing else in the 1900's—the customer would put nickels into a slot and a little window would open to reveal their pick, be it a slice of pie, macaroni and cheese, or a Salisbury steak. The gleaming glass and stainless-steel windows looked "sanitary" and like nothing else in existence. The Automat illustrates how the company served the public with great food and, at the same, time treated its employees with fairness and integrity.
The documentary's theme song was composed by comedian and writer Mel Brooks, who speaks with great affection about his days eating at the Automat. Starbucks Coffee founder Howard Schultz talks about how he was inspired to start his company because of Horn and Hardart. Brooks and Schultz are just two of several prominent Americans who appear in the film to pay homage to the memory of a restaurant chain that once dotted the corners of two great cities. The film also features the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, actors Carl Reiner and Elliott Gould, members of the Horn and Hardart families, and dedicated former employees who all share memories of life at the Automat.
Tickets to these screenings are $12.75 and under. Cinema members pay only $8.