H Mart in Aurora Now Has a Soup Vending Machine | Westword

H Mart in Aurora Now Has a Soup Vending Machine, and We Tried It

The ordering process is simple, and the food comes out fast — but how does it taste?
The ordering process is simple, but is it worth trying?
The ordering process is simple, but is it worth trying? Jacob Gorovoy
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Cutting-edge food technology has become mainstream in East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, where food vending machines provide quick and convenient meals to the masses. In the U.S., though, similar technology has been slow to catch on.

In 2021, a pizza vending machine debuted at the Celtic, but the company that created it, Basil Street Cafe, has since gone out of business. Recently, a plant-based robot chef called SavorEat debuted its first machines in the U.S. at the University of Denver, and so far, it's been a hit with students.

While that technology is focused on vegan meal options — primarily burgers — there's another automated food vending machine popping up in the Denver metro area.

California-based tech and food company Yo-Kai Express is attempting to revolutionize the self-service meal industry nationwide. It creates machines that can be open 24 hours a day and produce a variety of noodle and rice dishes in just minutes. It places them primarily in casinos, office buildings and college campuses, where the technology provides patrons with a food option that requires no staffing.

So far, there are five Yo-Kai machines in Colorado, including two in casinos in Black Hawk and one inside the H Mart at 2751 South Parker Road in Aurora, which is where I went to sample its selection of soups.

The machine at the busy Asian grocery has not been exceedingly popular since its installation, notes a manager — which makes sense, as it's hardly the main attraction. Rather, it's an accompaniment to H Mart’s already stacked selection of ready-to-eat food options.
a bowl of soup with noodles
Spicy jjamppong beef soup made by the Yo-Kai Express machine.
Jacob Gorovoy

Ordering from the machine was seamless. You simply pick your desired item on the touchscreen (there are no customizeable options, just a pre-set selection) and make your payment using either a credit card or Apple Pay. (Cash is not accepted.)

After about two minutes, a bowl appears in the small window of the machine. I ordered the Spicy jjamppong beef soup, priced at $12.99 before tax. I didn't have high expectations for a bowl of soup made by a machine — and that's a good thing, because the soup was okay at best.

The broth wasn't spicy, or really flavorful at all, and the meat was dehydrated strips of beef. When you factor in the nearly $13 price tag, the overall experience was fairly disappointing, especially considering the availability of fresh-made dishes at a cheaper price point in the store's cafeteria, which is located directly next to the Yo-Kai machine.

Soup quality aside, Yo-Kai has created an intriguing product that provides customers with a convenient and quick meal — though it's probably best suited to locations that don't have such easy access to fresh fare, or spots where late-night food options are lacking.

As automated food technology continues to catch on in the U.S., expect to see more machines like this around — just don't expect their offerings to replace the kind of high-quality meals being dished up by local eateries.
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