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Welcome to The Automat
Americans once sipped coffee and ate pie around communal tables, sharing their struggles and dreams with strangers at Horn & Hardart’s iconic Automat. Lifetimes ago, these working class palaces nourished a sense of unity that bridged the diversity of class, language, gender and race in the urban melting pots of the East Coast.
The story begins in a booming Philadelphia in the late 1800s. White-collar workers are flooding into the offices of newly built skyscrapers, and lunchrooms are springing up to feed them. Coentrepreneurs Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart seize their chance and by the early 1900s have BUILT a thriving chain of small restaurants and cafeterias, the latter a brand new trend of its own. Hardart brings back from Europe inspiration for the Automat, a ‘waiterless’ cafeteria that proves enormously popular, making the Horn and Hardart chain the dominant American restaurant company for the next half century. Kings of the New York and Philly restaurant scenes, the Automats feed millions throughout the Depression and two World Wars, serving all comers in palaces of marble, silver, and steel. Good food served cheap, and the enduring thrill of the automat machines themselves wins the Automat a place in our culture and hearts alike.
Travel back in time to experience this unique piece of America's history, an exciting story and one that may seem strangely familiar. More than just entertainment, THE AUTOMAT is a parable of how we once dined happily together before turning to the isolated and unhappy experience offered by fast food, a bad deal that no amount of advertising can disguise.
Our Goal & Our Drive
What started as a shared fascination with cafeterias and their culture, has turned into an incredible educational journey. As we dive deeper into the archives and hear stories told by people who experienced Horn and Hardart's restaurants first hand we appreciate more and more what we once had but have since lost.
The Automat is a project already two years in the making, with hundreds of hours of interviews and archival research behind us. We are seeking funding to complete shooting of the documentary film and to begin post-production work.
The money will help pay for:
- Equipment Rental
- Director of Photography
In the event we exceed our goal we will be able to get further into the post-production process.
Director/Producer | Lisa Hurwitz
Lisa is Director and Producer of the THE AUTOMAT. Lisa's background is in arts administration. She directed the 2012 and 2013 Olympia Film Festivals and was Executive Administrator at Bumbershoot 2014: Seattle's Music & Arts Festival. She is very proud to have spent 4 years as a volunteer 35mm film projectionist at the Olympia Film Society at the historic Capitol Theater while getting her B.A. from The Evergreen State College. She is also proud to have run the Film Society's successful and crucial digital cinema conversion campaign.
Producer | Alec Shuldiner
Alec authored the 2001 PhD dissertation the film is based on, Trapped Behind the Automat: Technological Systems and the American Restaurant, 1902-1991. As a Producer and Historical Consultant on THE AUTOMAT, he is assisting in adapting his dissertation for the screen. Alec received his B.A. in Comparative Religion from Harvard University and his doctorate in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University. He lived for many years in the Netherlands where automat machines are still popular. Currently he works for Autodesk, a leading provider of 3D design, engineering and entertainment software.
Associate Producer | Becki Chandler
Becki is the Associate Producer for THE AUTOMAT and Production Designer for various film projects and interactive corporate events. She worked as an Operations Manager for a NY based non-profit focusing on human rights, civil rights, fighting anti-Semitism and promoting tolerance. She studied and worked as an Interior Designer & Project Manager for over 15 years. She has served on various non-profit boards, supporting fundraising campaigns, strategic planning, and educational programming. Becki is the granddaughter of immigrants that settled in NYC and ate at the Automat.
Cinematographer | Philip Lucas
Philip is a graduate of The Evergreen State College where he studied film with an emphasis on social justice. His work has ranged from experimental travelogues to a broadcast quality sitcom pilot. Outside of filmmaking Philip's main interests are writing, photography, and he is a passionate cook with a flair for French cuisine. He now resides in Philadelphia and has a cat named Leonard Nimoy.
Risks and challenges
We have been extremely fortunate thus far to have access to historians, members of the Horn & Hardart families, Horn & Hardart employees & customers, and celebrities. Many have provided time, archival material, services, and resources in-kind. We have managed to keep our costs down considerably because of those who have graciously supported us. We have not only made a commitment to ourselves but to those who have been part of our journey.
Our risks are not being able to do in-person interviews with those who are strong components to the story. Because this project is based so heavily on personal stories and experiences, it would be challenging to build the story without these.
It has been incredibly inspiring to hear people talk about this project. This story may not be for everyone but our audience has reassured us that this story needs to be told. We owe it to you.
- Cinematography by Philip Lucas
- Second Camera Andre Mascarenhas & Riley Gibson
- Sound Design & Mix by Steve Heinke, Pure Audio
- Artwork by Max Ginsburg
- Edited by Lisa Hurwitz
Thank you to all of the participants of this project and to everyone who has helped us along the way.
Special Thanks to Dawn & Al Mazzone of Horn & Hardart Brands, the members of the Horn & Hardart families, Tony Reid, Stefanie Malone, Paul Goldberg, J Schwartz, Thomas Lannon & Tal Nadan of The Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, and a VERY special thanks to John W. Romas of Horn & Hardart for access to his personal collection.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)