Wow Bao to open vending machines nationwide

A Wow Bao-branded Just Baked kiosk. / Photograph courtesy of Wow Bao and Automated Retail Technologies

Wow Bao, which began as a fast-casual concept and has expanded recently as a virtual brand, has hit on a new growth vehicle: vending machines.

The Chicago-based Asian bao chain is partnering with Automated Retail Technologies (ART) to put high-tech Wow Bao kiosks in hospitals, hotels, airports and other nontraditional locations across the U.S. and Canada over the next two years.

It launched Tuesday with 50 machines in 24 cities in Georgia and Florida. ART’s Wow Bao-branded Just Baked Hot Food kiosks will offer a menu of bao and dumplings that are refrigerated and cooked to order.

“After seven years of research and development, we are excited to conveniently offer Wow Bao’s signature items via Just Baked’s Hot Food Vending machines in otherwise food desert locations,” says Geoff Alexander, Wow Bao’s president and CEO, in a statement.

The Just Baked machines have large touchscreens for viewing the menu and ordering and can produce 68 servings per load, according to the company’s website.

“As soon as we tested Wow Bao through our kiosk, we knew we had a home run,” said Kevin Haggerty, VP of Customer Success at Automated Retail Technologies. “Serving Wow Bao Asian street food through our revolutionary Just Baked Hot Food kiosk allows us to bring this delicious product to places that previously couldn’t get this high-quality hot food before.”

The machines will help expand Wow Bao’s footprint, which currently extends to more than 600 U.S. locations, most of which are partner restaurants serving Wow Bao’s menu as a delivery-only add-on. Wow Bao also sells products in grocery stores. It has earned a reputation as a tech-forward concept, being one of the first restaurants to put self-service ordering stations in its stores.

Automated kiosks have caught on recently as a way for restaurants to grow quickly while offering customers convenient access to their food. Jamba, 800 Degrees Pizza and Freebirds World Burrito are among the chains pursuing the format, which allows them to add outposts without the overhead associated with a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

In a setback for the world of hot food vending, DoorDash last week shut down its Chowbotics division, which marketed Sally the salad robot to restaurants. The delivery company said the machines did not meet internal benchmarks.

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