Alan Cohnen was hungry.
Last year, he sat in an airport lounge munching on a bag of chips from a vending machine. Around him, people enjoyed pizza, hamburgers, and other noshes unavailable to Cohnen because kosher food could only be found in the vending machine, which meant only potato chips and pretzels.
Cohnen, of Teaneck, and his business partner Doron Fetman, of Monsey, N.Y., came up with the idea of a kosher automat and set to work in September to make it a reality. They self-financed and formed Kosher Vending Industries LLC and partnered with KRh Thermal Systems Inc., which owns the patent on the automated system. KRh’s HOT CHOICE Automated Diner uses 40-mile-per-hour jets of hot air to heat the food.
Two possible designs for Kosher Vending’s new machines, which will serve hot kosher foods in ‘5 locations in New Jersey and New York.
"It’s more like a convection oven" than a microwave, Cohnen said. "Not only is the product getting hot, it’s getting crispier."
KRh partners with companies such as Kraft, Tyson, and Tombstone Pizza, but did not previously offer any kosher options. Cohnen and Fetman were impressed by the machine’s ability to serve warm food in any location, especially in airports, schools, hotels, casinos, and hospitals, where Cohnen and Fetman want to place the machines.
"The non-Jews can eat anywhere, but for us there’s nothing," said Cohnen, who is also co-owner of Esme Bistro in Teaneck. "This machine was made for us."
This month, they will unveil ‘5 machines serving kosher dairy items for a trial run. The first machines will serve pizza, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, vegetable cutlets, potato knishes, and French fries, at a cost of $3 to $4 per item. The food, all certified by the Kof-K, will come frozen from various suppliers and Kosher Vending will repackage it for its machines. Eventually, Cohnen would like to expand to separate meat machines.
For now, the food is supplied to Kosher Vending’s office and warehouse in Valley Cottage, N.Y. Cohnen said he and Fetman plan to build a commissary in their warehouse and hire cooks to produce food, instead of just repackaging food from other suppliers.
Kosher Vending’s trial was scheduled to begin March 1 for an undetermined length of time. Its Website, www.kosherindustries.com, also was scheduled to go live that day as well. The site will list the ‘5 locations in the New York/New Jersey metro areas where the company plans to install machines.
Although the product has not hit the market yet, Cohnen said he has received very positive feedback, especially from KRh.
"They think we’re going to be bigger than Kraft because of our niche market," he said. A Mintel market research report earlier this year stated that kosher foods have grown into a $14.6 billion industry and that 7.5 million people in the United States buy kosher foods for religious reasons or because they believe them to be more healthful.
Cohnen expects the kosher vending machines to be a success and spread not just across the country, but also across the world.
"Anywhere is a potential market for us," Cohnen said.