Hot dog at the push of a button: Berlin-based start-up wants to revolutionize the street food market

Eleonora Bulghadaryan, David Bulghadaryan and Hamza Mujic (from left to right) enjoy it.

Eleonora Bulghadaryan, David Bulghadaryan and Hamza Mujic (from left to right) enjoy it.Markus Wächter/Berliner Zeitung

The favorite fast food of the Germans is and remains pizza, closely followed by kebab and burger. In America, the epicenter of fast food, however, the situation is quite different. There, the hot dog is the undisputed street food star.

The Berlin-based start-up MeiCook now wants to bring the cult snack to the top of the popularity scale in Germany as well. Their strategy: no interaction between customers and staff, a waiting time of just under two minutes, as little waste as possible. So siblings Eleonora and David Bulghadaryan, the founders of MeiCook, developed a hot dog vending machine.

The machine should waste as few resources as possible

"Each of us spends about six months of our lives in a queue to buy something. With us, you don't have to waste time: you'll get your delicious hot dog within seconds." With this promise, the founders advertise their vending machine in an advertising brochure. But efficiency is not the only reason that gave the siblings, who come from Armenia, the idea of developing a hot dog vending machine.

"It made us very sad to see how much resources and food are wasted every day," says Eleonora Bulghadaryan when we meet her at the production facility of her partner Promess Montage- und Prüfsysteme GmbH on the outskirts of Berlin. "With our vending machine, we want to show that an efficient use of food is possible. Plus, hot dogs are fun to eat, they're easy to grab and take with you. A lot of people like hot dogs, young and old."

According to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, every German citizen throws 78 kilograms of food into the garbage every year. However, a large part of it only ends up there because it has not been used up and has deteriorated in the refrigerator or in the fruit bowl. "Our mission is to make food accessible and affordable, while putting a smile on people's faces as they enjoy the delicious taste of our hot dogs," Bulghadaryan claims.

Since their hot dog machine can be operated and controlled via app, they always know exactly how many rolls and sausages are still available. The sausage is changed every 48 hours at the latest; If significantly more is sold in the period until the next change than calculated in advance, the app sounds the alarm and the founders stock up on the ingredients ahead of time. According to the two, almost all of them come from Germany, some of them also from the surrounding area of Berlin.

Eleonora Bulghadaryan is responsible for marketing at MeiCook, while her brother builds the vending machine.
Eleonora Bulghadaryan is responsible for marketing at MeiCook, while her brother builds the vending machine.Markus Wächter/Berliner Zeitung

MeiCook is a very young company, the commercial registration only took place at the beginning of this year. However, David Bulghadaryan has been working on his machines since 2016 and developed the first model at home, as befits a start-up entrepreneur. In the meantime, the second prototype is ready and will be in the Alexa shopping center from next week and will diligently produce hot dogs.

"Our vending machine will be set up directly at Media Markt Tech Village in Alexa," says Eleonora Bulghadaryan, adding that the company has already received inquiries from all over the world. The only problem is that so far there is only one vending machine and the company consists of only three employees. David, Eleonora and Hasan, a friend of the siblings, work every day to optimize the machines.

Customers must bring their own pickles and fried onions

"The current machine is being further developed. Only when the further developed machine meets our requirements will we produce several of them in order to serve more customers," say the founders. So far, the machine can only prepare a naked hot dog, without pickles, without fried onions. In addition to toppings, the third prototype will also be able to switch between conventional and vegetarian sausages: "We are aware that dietary preferences are different. With this in mind, it is important to us to serve not only meat lovers, but also our vegetarian and vegan customers." In addition, it will soon be possible to choose between wholemeal and wheat rolls; Customers should also be provided with information on nutritional values.

The founders have ideas – but their implementation takes a lot of time, as Eleonora Bulghadaryan explains. "Every step that takes place in the machine is programmed and further developed by us," she says. Once the production steps have been finalized and the software has been transferred to the machine, the preparation steps run smoothly within a few seconds.

The front of the machine is transparent so that the customer can follow all the production steps.
The front of the machine is transparent so that the customer can follow all the production steps.Markus Wächter/Berliner Zeitung

The ordering process is simple. Payment is made by card or coin-insertion, each hot dog costs 2.50 euros. A sausage is then grilled in the vending machine and a roll is warmed up, then the roll, closely followed by the warmed sausage, falls into a packaging tray. After that, sauces are added, which can be selected individually when ordering – after all, the machine spits out the hot dog. Toppings, if desired, would have to be brought along at the moment.

Most recently, the hot dog vending machine was in Prenzlauer Berg on a trial basis. The founders do not want to say how many sausages were sold there per day. However, the response from customers has been positive, and this is mainly due to the fact that every production step can be followed from the outside. Through a pane of glass, customers can see exactly how the preparation process works: "No one walks past the vending machine without taking a closer look. Age doesn't matter."

And where does the start-up see itself in five years? Eleonora Bulghadaryan answers, without thinking twice: "In the long term, the plan is to create a hub where various freshly prepared dishes from the vending machines can be offered."

If everything goes the way they want it to for the founders of MeiCook, then vending machines could eventually replace an entire restaurant. Personnel costs are saved, long waiting times are a thing of the past, and food waste is to be put to an end. The only question that remains is whether the vending machine hot dog can prevail against the kebab from the stall

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