What does local beef jerky have in common with kombucha, condoms, Pepto, and fancy PB&J? Besides being the makings of one hell of a party, they’re all products you can find in Guerilla Vending machines. The District’s first custom-vending company was launched last year by former Toki Underground chef Mike Galyen and government scientist Alex Hastings. Together with friends in the food industry, they’ve fashioned creative mini-marts stationed inside Maketto, the Pug, Union Market, and other busy venues where quick-grab edibles and necessities come in handy. Items tend to fall in three categories: convenience (phone chargers), quirky finds (packets of MSG), and local products (Dirty South Deli sandwiches). We sat down with Galyen and Hastings to find out more about their genius creations, which they plan to bring to more retail spaces soon.
How did Guerilla Vending start?
Hastings: We were inspired by Japanese vending machines. Anything you can imagine comes out of a vending machine there. We asked ourselves, “Why isn’t that available here?” At the same time, Erik Bruner-Yang was opening Maketto and expressed interest in having a crazy vending machine, so it all worked out.
Was it easy to find machines that can fit unusual products?
Galyen: That part was simultaneously fun and frustrating. The vending industry in the States is designed to sell chips and soda. We have guys who still look at us slack-jawed when we tell them what we’re doing instead of chips and soda. It was cool finding vendors here—Union Kitchen and Mess Hall have been really great connections.
Hastings: We’re also trying to put as much local art in them as we can.
Galyen: Josh Kramer has watercolor prints of food from local restaurants, Spencer Joynt has enamel pins, and Kelly Towles did his own take on Maneki-neko cats.
What’s your all-time bestseller?
Galyen: It’s a tossup between cats and sandwiches—the Maketto pork bánh mì is the favorite.
How do you go about stocking the machines?
Galyen: We like to use our cars for stocking perishable items, but a lot of it is done bike-messenger-style.
You rent machines for private events. What’s the craziest thing you’ve been asked to stock?
Galyen: I think we’ve done way weirder stuff than anybody’s ever asked.
Hastings: Japanese portable urinals. It’s a little bag you can use on a car trip if you can’t actually stop and go to the bathroom.
Are you worried customers are going to use these portable urinals at the bar?
Hastings: Technically, it’s better than the alternative.
What’s your trick when an item gets stuck?
Galyen: Since the products are atypical in the machines, we have to do a lot of testing to try and avoid that in the first place. But we do live in the neighborhood, so sometimes when it happens, Alex runs out and puts out the fire.
When it comes to a classic vending machine, what’s your go-to?
Hastings: Doritos, man. Doritos every time.
Galyen: It’s hard to avoid the Doritos, but sometimes you want the spicy Cheetos.
This article appears in our June 2016 issue of Washingtonian.