NewsPinellas County


New Pizza ATM in St. Pete hopes to combat kitchen staff shortages

Restaurants have 1 million job openings nationwide
Pizza ATM Fergs
Posted at 3:50 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 04:48:29-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — You may have heard of cupcake ATMs, but how about a pizza vending machine?

It’s a pretty unique concept and now you can find one outside of Ferg’s Bar and Grill on Central Avenue in St. Pete.

Mark Ferguson, the owner of Ferg’s, recently bought the machine from a company in France. Every morning, his kitchen staff makes the pizzas from scratch then load them up into the refrigerated machine.

The pizzas are 12-inch pies and pre-sliced. The machine takes just four minutes to make the pizzas. Currently, Ferg’s offers two options: cheese and pepperoni. In the near future, they will expand to offer four different pizza options.

Ferguson said the pizza will be available 24/7 and will help the restaurant deal with a major issue: Not enough kitchen staff.

Pizza vending machine closeup

“We have three small kitchens and all football season we had to run with one because we didn’t have enough workers,” Ferguson explained. “It’s been really hard to get cooks. On football Sundays, we have so many seats and so many people here with 90 TVs. That leads to the kitchen getting backed up but now people have another option.”

The labor crisis is forcing restaurants to get creative. ABC Action News recently covered a story about a robotic server called Pearl that management at Anna Maria Oyster Bar is using to run food out from the kitchen to customers at tables.

RELATED: Robot waitress helps local restaurant serve food during labor shortage

“We absolutely are striving to help solve the labor crisis and if we can do it with robotics that’s great. We are not replacing people just helping them do their job easier,” explained Anna Maria Oyster Bar Owner John Horne.

Nationwide, there are currently more than 1 million unfilled jobs in restaurants and bars, according to the National Restaurant Association.

If you’re wondering how the ATM Pizza tastes, ABC Action News enlisted a taste tester. 14-year-old Molly Claire said, “It tastes good. I’m not a big pizza fan but I’ll eat it.” The pizza features a thin, almost cracker-like crust and lots of cheese.

The Pizza ATM machine isn’t cheap. Ferguson paid $72,000 bucks for it, but he hopes to recoup that money within two years while giving customers a fun alternative. The machine can hold a total of 72 pizzas, although Ferg’s is currently putting in 15-30 a day.

There are just eight similar machines in the U.S., according to Ferguson, and most are in college dorms.

“It’s incredible. COVID caused a lot of problems. We don’t have enough kitchen help but now people can come by and grab a hot pizza if they don’t want to wait or our restaurant is closed for the night. It’s a great machine,” Ferguson added.

Tommy Sullivan agrees. He lives nearby and has already used the Pizza ATM a few times.

“I get hungry at three in the morning sometimes and there’s no place to go and so this is amazing,” he said.