GRC was hired as the sales agent for The Automat and procured several offers. Realizing that instead the producer could do better, GRC devised a strategy for for self- distribution. The producer and GRC worked closely together to release the film in all media in the US. This strategy has proven to be far more lucrative than licensing the film for a modest advance. Despite Covid, the film did over $250,000 at the box office followed by a successful ancillary run including its current home on HBO Max and TCM. The Automat was nominated for four Critics Choice Documentary Awards in 2022, including for Best documentary feature and best first documentary feature for director, Lisa Hurwitz.
“The Automat” recounts the lost history of the iconic restaurant chain Horn & Hardart, which served affordable-priced quality food to millions of New Yorkers and Philadelphians for more than a century. Found by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart in 1888, it revolutionized the nation’s restaurant scene with comfortable interiors, quality food, and state of the art technology for the early 20th century. The chain welcomed those who had been ignored, including immigrants, the working-class, Blacks, and women, all of whom were often not welcome in restaurants. Horn & Hardart’s technology captured the public’s imagination like nothing else in 1900’s— the customer put nickels into slots and little windows opened to reveal the customer’s pick, be it a slice of pie, macaroni and cheese, or a Salisbury steak. The gleaming glass and stainless-steel windows looked “sanitary” and like nothing else in existence. “The Automat” illustrates how the company both served the public with great food and at the same time treated its employees with fairness and integrity.
Mel Brooks is one of several prominent Americans paying homage in the film to the memory of a restaurant chain that once dotted the corners of two great cities. The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Secretary of State Colin Powell, actors Carl Reiner and Elliott Gould, the Horn family and the Hardart family, and dedicated former employees share memories of life at the Automat. Starbucks Coffee founder Howard Schultz talks about how he was inspired to start his company because of Horn and Hardart.
Horn and Hardart was a favorite location for dozens of movies and televisions shows. Jean Arthur bantered with Ray Milland in front of the three-nickel pie slot, and Cary Grant spotted Doris Day entering the store.
Director Lisa Hurwitz spent eight years interviewing dozens of celebrities and former employees and visiting far-flung places where collectors hoard the surviving remnants of the once spectacular Automat restaurants. The audience will enjoy an endearing first time look into one of the most successful business ventures of its time through the eyes of those touched by their experiences.
“I have to thank Gary Rubin for being the best partner in crime, conspiring with me on all this theatrical mishugas. He is the best distribution advisor and sales agent I could have asked for!”
– Lisa Hurwitz, producer and director of The Automat