If you’re from Philadelphia and of a certain age, you’ve heard of Horn and Hardart. It was a new idea in dining out. The automat restaurant chain featured machines that dispersed single servings of food. Not only was the food very good, it was also affordable. Plus, the coffee was french pressed and always hot.
I spoke to the film’s maker Lisa Hurwitz before the screening of The Automat at the Philadelphia Film Center. It was the last day of the Philadelphia Film Festival on Sunday October 31, 2021.
It is Lisa’s directorial debut. She said making this film was her “film school.” Her motivation in making it was to preserve the history of this company. She met so many people who cared deeply about Horn and Hardart.
The first automat in Philadelphia opened in 1888 in Center City, selling coffee. Soon, more stores and more food were added in both Philly and New York City. The automats operated very successfully for decades. The last Horn and Hardart in New York closed in 1991.
Lisa used a Wikipedia page that listed famous Philadelphians and that’s how she enlisted people to interview about the Automat like former Mayor Wilson Goode.
Goode accompanied Lisa on the red carpet before the screening. He is interviewed in the film because he met regularly at the Horn and Hardart at 15th and Market. In a Q&A after the screening, Mr Goode said he ate so much meatloaf there, he had to go off of red meat. And he said that the black political movement in Philadelphia began at Horn and Hardart during his meetings there.
Another interesting personality Lisa found for the film is Edwin Daly. He is the son of the President of Horn and Hardart. When the co-founder, Joseph Horn died, Edwin Daly’s father took over. Horn had no descendants.
Other people featured included Elliot Gould, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Colin Powell. But the most prominent guest and the funniest was Mel Brooks. He sings a song at the end as the credits roll by. Lisa was able to contact and engage Brooks through a mutual friend.
The film is only 79 minutes long. It was supposed to premiere at the 2020 Telluride Film Festival. But Lisa didn’t want to have it seen virtually due to the pandemic. By waiting, she was able to be at the Philadelphia Film Festival in person.
The film will be available in June of 2022 via Video On Demand. Starting in September 2022 it will be on cable.
To see my overview about the 30th Philadelphia Film Festival, go here.