Vending machines: metal monsters that either spit out food or hoard it on their own fickle terms, no matter how many $5 bills or curse words are thrown at them. Besides their unreliable service, vending machines are filled with notoriously sugary food with low nutritional value and receive criticism for promoting poor eating habits with temptingly low price tags.
The Wellfound Foods vending machine pushes back on this narrative. It is the mysterious meal dispenser that stands across from Chick-fil-A and Crop Chop in the Leavey Center. Situated in a discreet corner, the giant rectangular vending machine is painted in aesthetically pleasing yellows and blues, matching the company’s website and evoking ideas of freshness and nutrition.
Wellfound Foods is a prepackaged food startup created by Sarah Frimpong, a previous member of the board of directors at DC Central Kitchen who sought to introduce healthier ingredients into grab-and-go foods after finding the quality of food options at some of her old jobs to be very disappointing. Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused businesses to shut down and sent workers home, Wellfound Foods pivoted to focus more on its vending machines, especially installing the machines in hospitals.
“I think as a business, you are always thinking: How do we evolve, how do we diversify and how is the market changing?” Frimpong said in an interview with the Washington Business Journal. “We were placing our vending machines before COVID-19. But this has underscored a lot of the benefits for us and for consumers.”
The Medstar Georgetown University Hospital does have a Wellfound Foods vending machine; however, instead of addressing the needs of hungry doctors and nurses, the Leavey Center machine caters mostly to ravenous students. For Arjun Badami (COL ’24), stumbling across this vending machine was a stroke of luck.
“I saw it in Leavey one day and I wanted a brief change of pace from Leo’s,” Badami said in an interview with The Hoya. “I also had class from 12:30 to 3:15, so having somewhere to quickly grab a sandwich beforehand was convenient.”
Before this chance encounter, Badami didn’t even know the Wellfound Foods vending machine existed. Balanced eating is part of Badami’s self-care regimen, so since then, the vending machine has been a favorite.
“What you eat matters a ton. Having a good, tasty source of things like veggies and protein is really important to me,” Badami said. “It is not only healthy, but it gives me something to look forward to each week, which can help put me in a good mood when work is getting hectic.”
The Wellfounds Foods vending machine has a variety of ready-to-eat sandwiches, salads and breakfast options. Badami’s favorite item from the vending machine is the Roasted Portobello & Mozzarella Sandwich, which he loved so much that he actually recommended it to the sophomore class in the “Gtown 24” GroupMe chat.
“I, in fact, do eat the portobello sandwich fairly regularly and have tried a couple other things there,” Badami said. “All good, but the sandwich is my favorite.”
To buy food from the machine, a student must use their own money independent of a meal plan, presenting a downside to students who are already paying for on-campus food options. The lack of a Flex dollars reader or meal swipe option poses a barrier for those who may wish to grab a healthy, quick meal from the machine but do not want to spend almost $9 on a sandwich.
Isabel McHenry (COL ’24) sampled the Blackened Chicken Caesar Sandwich from the machine and deemed the food not worth the $8.99 she spent on it.
“I could get a ciabatta at Royal Jacket — that’s a much better bang for my buck,” McHenry said in an interview with The Hoya.
In some ways, the Wellfound Foods vending machine adds to the Georgetown community’s nutritional balance by being a fast option for healthy meals. However, the machine’s awkward location, lack of advertisement and high prices for average food subvert many of the common upsides of vending machines. Ultimately, braving the Crop Chop line may end up being more appealing than this mysterious setup.