Coke machine of the future debuts at Firehouse Subs

One of only two in the state, a Coca-Cola machine at Firehouse Subs dispenses more than 100 drink choices.

A futuristic-looking box with one spout for dispensing carbonated beverages, the Coca-Cola Free Style at Firehouse, located at 535 S. Upper St. near campus, is second only to the one at Moe’s Southwest Grill at Fayette Mall, which was installed about two weeks ago, Firehouse General Manager Ken Wright said.

The first step involves dispensing ice. Then, the customer uses the machine’s touch screen to choose a beverage, and then flavor of that beverage — such as Fanta Zero instead of regular Fanta. The whole process is run by a computer.

The machine uses cartridges that are much smaller than the old system that consisted of a 60-pound bag of syrup in a cardboard box.

“The drink now in this machine is made fresh when you press the button,” Wright said. “You’ve got the freshest drink possible.”

A constant line was formed in front of the machine during lunchtime Friday, Firehouse’s second day with the Free Style in operation. Employee and incoming UK freshman Allie Kelbel and Coke Service Technician Mike Kimes stood by to assist customers with the foreign technology. Wright said it generally takes customers a minute to figure out how to use the machine, but he forsees that issue passing in a couple of weeks as more and more regular customers become accustomed to its easy-to-use format.

“You get a veteran coming up for a refill, they’ve figured it out,” he said.

Wright said in the future, Coca-Cola is looking to make a machine that allows customers to order a custom drink with their smartphones, such as a special mix of three beverages into one. For now, customers can make customized drinks the same way they could with the old machines, just with more choices.

And if the machine breaks down, Wright said a local Coca-Cola technician is on call at any time during the day. He said that some problems can be fixed from the Coke headquarters in Atlanta, since the machine is computer-run.

Wright said that the machine especially caters to the younger generation, even though people of all ages can easily use it. He said a girl Thursday took a picture beside the machine to post on her Facebook.

He also said the machine is good for business.

“Restaurants where they have put this have seen an increase in sales,” he said.

Firehouse Franchisee Bob Conochalla said other Firehouse locations will use the machines, too. He said a franchise will open soon in Nicholasville, and another in September in Lexington. Both will carry the Free Style. He said the machine is the future of cola-dispensing.

Wright said that, even with so many choices, some customers stick to classic flavors, like regular Coke or Dr. Pepper.

But, he said, “look at what you have here to choose from for next time.”

Firehouse Subs Coca-Cola Free Style – Images by Kentucky Kernel