On a recent Saturday afternoon, a dozen Portlanders lined up in the rain along East Burnside Street, waiting their turn at a freshly installed vending machine.
At a glance, it would seem like the apotheosis of the city's well-documented queuing culture—a bunch of hypebeasts risking health and dryness just to grab a Milky Way and experience the thrill of standing single-file again. But the Pix-O-Matic, the new dessert-dispensing apparatus outside French pastry shop Pix Pâtisserie, isn't just a retro-chic update on the machines you used to grab an apple from in college, although that's partly the inspiration.
For one thing, the desserts are, well, from Pix. Owner Cheryl Wakerhauser had the idea to revive the old-fashioned automat years ago, but, like a lot of restaurateurs forced to reevaluate how they do business over the past three months, it took the pandemic for her to finally give it a shot. It's appropriate for the moment: She can make sales without having to interact with customers or handle cash, and the automation means it can operate 24 hours a day.
She bought a refurbished 20-year-old machine from a supplier in Southeast Portland and began filling it daily with the items that have made Pix an after-dinner destination for two decades: decadent pies, rich mousses, truffle cakes, crème brûlées and those famous macarons.
But it's not just sweets bringing out the crowds. During the first week, the main draw was the item occupying the rotating "pop-up" slot with offerings from outside businesses: Chinese dumplings from dearly departed Sichuan palace Lucky Strike. And because this is Portland, where wacky vending machines are a dive-bar staple, it's also stocked with "Rick Astley for President" stickers, anti-"Moscow Mitch" face masks and still-valuable rolls of toilet paper.
After launching last week, Wakerhauser says it took only three days for the machine to make back her investment. Even in the midst of a health crisis and nightly clashes between protesters and police, the Pix-O-Matic has logged transactions as late as 1 am. It makes sense: With disco lights and a playlist pumping David Bowie and Kinks jams into the street, it's about the closest thing to "nightlife" that exists on the eastside right now.
Sadly, Lucky Strike will have already cycled out of the machine by the time you read this. But here's what you are likely to find in stock this week:
• French macarons
• Individual Pix desserts (the Amelie, Concord, Une Fantôme, Jane Avril, Queen of Sheba and Pixie Bar)
• Gift boxes of chocolate
• Tinned fish (squid, cod, trout, anchovies, sardines, mussels)
• "Defeat Moscow Mitch" buttons and face masks (with a free roll of toilet paper)
• "Rick Astley for President" stickers
• Cocktail mixers (tonic water, club soda, fresh citrus fruit)
• Kellogg's Corn Pops
• Rodolphe Le Meunier Salted Butter
• Items from Cow Bell Cheese Shop including Sheep's Cheese with Apricot Jam and Crackers and fondue kits (pop-up runs June 11-18)
GO: Pix Pâtisserie, 2225 E Burnside St., 971-271-7166. Open 24 hours. Credit cards only. See pixpatisserie.com/pixomatic for info on future pop-ups.