Wow Bao Chain Continues Expansion Via Vending Machines

Chicago-based Asian chain Wow Bao is exploring a new avenue as it continues its growth: vending machines.

Wow Bao, which began as a fast-casual concept specializing in steamed buns and has since expanded as a virtual brand, is partnering with Automated Retail Technologies (ART) to put high-tech, Wow Bao kiosks in hospitals, hotels, bars, schools, airports and casinos throughout the U.S. and Canada over the next two years.

The experiment launched earlier this month with 50 machines in Georgia and Florida, as reported by Restaurant Business (July 13). 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,” said Geoff Alexander, Wow Bao’s president and CEO, in a statement. “Wow Bao has always believed that evolution and innovation are important to grow the brand …”

The machines feature large touchscreens for viewing Wow Bao’s menu and ordering and can produce 68 servings per load, offering dishes such as Teriyaki Bao, Mongolian Beef Bao, and Chicken Dumplings. The machines aim to help build the brand of the Asian chain, which launched in 2003 and now has nearly 600 locations across the U.S. plus a presence in many grocery stores.

The automated kiosk trend has gathered momentum recently, as a way for restaurants to expand while offering convenience, with Jamba, Robo Burger, and 800 Degrees Pizza among the chains utilizing the format, which allows them to add locations without the usual overhead of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, as noted by Restaurant Business. 

Meanwhile, Basil Street garnered headlines earlier in the pandemic for its automated pizza baking kiosks which, at the touch of a button, cook flash-frozen 10-inch pizzas in approximately 3 minutes.

To learn of somewhat similar restaurant innovation – operator Stratis Morfogen’s automat setup at The Brooklyn Dumpling Shop – view this recent Food Institute video, below.