Noodle Shop Gives COVID the Slip

TEL AVIV (AP) -
go noodles, store coronavirus
A Go Noodles box is taken from a glass-paned locker in Tel Aviv, Thursday. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

As restaurants worldwide struggle to stay open in the coronavirus era, a new Tel Aviv noodle chain offers a pandemic-friendly approach: meals on the go with no human contact.

Fast food cafeterias where customers ordered from vending machines, known as automats, once flourished in New York and other cities around the globe in the 20th century. Go Noodles claims its branch that opened last week is the first of its kind in Tel Aviv that operates digitally.

Customers order via application or touch-screen monitors at the store and provide their cellphone number. When their food is ready, they get a text message with the code to one of several glass-paned lockers lining the back wall of the restaurant.

There are no tables, no servers, and little risk of contagion. Customers can pick up takeout orders without coming within 6 feet of any restaurant employees.

“I came up with this concept a year ago, with no connection to the coronavirus, from a business and financial need,” said Shmulik Gal, the restaurant’s manager. “The coronavirus broke out a few months ago and this thing gained major significance.”

The coronavirus crisis and the resulting lockdowns have forced many small businesses and restaurants to shut their doors in recent months. The nationwide lockdown imposed in March sent Israel’s unemployment rate skyrocketing to over 25%, and the recovery has been painfully slow.

Gal said he initially conceived of the idea for his Asian noodle shop as a way to cut costs in an industry where profit margins are wafer thin. But with no end in sight for the pandemic, he said its approach to dining should have broad appeal.

“People are looking for less contact with others, less intermingling, less touching,” Gal said. “I think this thing has a lot of strength and people will embrace it.”