When I first heard about the PizzaForno machine landing at the Arco gas station in Buckhead, I was intrigued. The Toronto-based company’s vending machines are sprouting up around the country promising hot pizzas in just three minutes. Each 10-inch pie costs between $10 and $13 and can be purchased either hot (cooked on site) or cold to bake at home. Pizza is also available 24/7 at the touch of a button.
PizzaForno is meant to be fast, affordable, and convenient for the purchaser. But how does the pizza taste? And does this AI-driven, pizza-slinging machine actually deliver on everything it promises? Stricken with a mid-day pizza craving on a Tuesday, I decided to give the robotic pizzeria a try. Here’s how it went.
Before I headed over to the Arco, I pulled up the PizzaForno app which is supposed to allow you to order pizza ahead of time and locate the nearest machine. I was surprised to learn there is a machine near my home in Dunwoody. It isn’t operational yet. When I selected the Buckhead location at the Arco gas station, it displayed a 404 error message. My first AI pizza experience was off to a rocky start. I hopped in the car and drove to Buckhead and found that the PizzaForno machine itself is super easy to use.
Located on the edge of the Arco parking lot, the machine features a large display screen accompanied by descriptive pictures. Choose your pizza, including barbecue chicken, Hawaiian, and meat lovers, and pay by credit card or mobile pay. Simple. I submitted an order for the four cheese and pepperoni pizzas and paid $25. As the machine got to work, the air around me began to smell pleasantly of pizza.
As promised, just three minutes later, a piping hot box containing my pepperoni pizza ejected from the machine like a VHS tape or money from an ATM, followed shortly after by the cheese pizza. Within 10 minutes, I was good to go. It was time to taste test.
Opening the first box revealed a slightly charred pepperoni pizza, but not in that sexy wood-fired oven kind of way. The cheese had a waxy appearance reminiscent of a school cafeteria pizza. The flavor and texture were lackluster, but not offensive. Let’s call it forgettable, but edible.
The four cheese pizza fared a little bit better. The composition of the PizzaForno “cheese blend” creates a meltier topping that improves upon the taste from that of the pepperoni pizza. Both pizza crusts were thin, as was the sauce, which was also unremarkable in flavor. PizzaForno and its pizzas are giving concession stand vibes.
I wouldn’t write PizzaForno off completely. It truly is convenient, especially if you think of it in terms of fast food ordered from a drive-through window. Let’s face it, late-night pizza cravings happen. If I have a hankering for cheap pizza late at night, I’ll probably opt for delivery from Papa John’s up the road, where a small cheese pizza with a pillowy crust also costs around $10.
My experience with PizzaForna got me thinking about other automated food machines promising the same convenience beginning to crop up in Atlanta. Automats (hot food vending machines) have been around for over a century in countries throughout Europe. And PizzaForno will soon have some AI-generated pizzeria competition, when the team behind Atlanta Pizza Truck launch their first pizza machine in October.
Atlanta Pizza Truck founder Alessio Lacco says his pizza vending machine called Quickza is different. Like PizzaForno, pizzas are produced off-site by hand and then stored in refrigerated compartments inside the machine for the robotic arm to reach in and grab once a customer selects an uncooked pie. However, Lacco says Quickza pizzas are just better tasting.
“I can tell you that we are definitely going to make a better product,” says Lacco, a native of Naples, Italy, and certified pizzaiolo. Quickza pizzas will be made with double zero flour, carefully-sourced ingredients, and be par-baked (partially baked) in a wood-fired oven before being placed in the machine to help impart some of that classic Neapolitan pizza flavor when fully baked.
“Because they’re going to be par-baked, the pizzas will lose a little bit of the hydration which will make the dough a little crispy,” says Lacco. “It’s going to help the flavor and the quality of the pizza.”
Lacco says the goal isn’t to install Quickza machines in every neighborhood, but rather high traffic areas around Atlanta where pizza or other food options aren’t as readily available or convenient. He’s eyeing a car dealership for the first Quickza machine and is setting his sights on opening more pizza machines near college football stadiums. For Lacco, these locations make the most sense for Quickza machines and won’t compete with the neighborhood pizzeria.
“There’s a customer for everything,” Lacco says of automated food machines like PizzaForno and Quickza. And while I’m no PizzaForno fan girl, these high-tech, no-contact pizzerias may just end up filling a gap in the market. Let the pizza machine wars begin, Atlanta.
3861 Roswell Road, Atlanta. pizzaforno.com. Open 24/7.