- leCupboard dispenses healthy, personalized, prepared
meals out of machines.
- We tried out three leCupboard dishes — two
meals and a dessert — and the taste blew us away.
- Founder Lamiaa Bounahmidi believes the startup helps
address nutritional problems that arise when people choose
convenience over health.
Lamiaa Bounahmidi may have a solution to your diet
woes: a vending machine.
Bounahmidi is leading a San Francisco-based startup called
dispenses healthy, personalized, prepared meals out of vending
machines. The startup’s goal is to get people to think
differently about healthy food by making it as convenient as
Customers simply press a button on one of the machines — which
Bounahmidi calls “cupboards” — and out comes a vegan snack or
meal in a reusable glass container. The dishes range in price
from $6-$13, and most are high in protein and whole grains.
LeCupboard’s seven locations are all in downtown San Francisco,
in semi-private spaces like coworking areas, schools, and
My leCupboard taste test
On a recent visit to one vending machine, I ordered and sampled
three different items, each of which was filling enough to stand
on its own.
Bounahmidi recommended I start with a lighter dish as a
sort of appetizer, then try a more filling main course, followed
by a dessert. I tapped my selection on leCupboard’s touch
screen, and was able to enter any dietary
restrictions. Options included “avoid gluten” and “avoid
nuts” — if I had used it, the feature would have excluded options
that included those ingredients — but since I don’t have
Celiac or an allergy, I skipped that step.
Within 30 seconds, my first entree came out ready to eat.
Each leCupboard dish comes with a label that lists ingredients
and lays out its nutritional profile, including fiber, protein,
and what leCupboard calls “healthful” fat, a tweak to standard
nutrition labels that aligns with the
latest nutritional science on fat. Healthy main dishes get
labeled “Build,” while desserts — which mostly rely on
ingredients like nuts and fruit — get labels like
My first item mimicked a poke bowl, the popular raw
fish dish. But because leCupboard’s food is all vegan, my
selection featured beets instead — a substitution that made
me skeptical. After gingerly skewering a forkful of beet and some
veggies, I took a bite.
Erin Brodwin / Business
The flavors — lemon, seaweed, vegetable, delicious — danced on my
palate. It was so good. I asked Bounahmidi how she had performed
this magic trick.
The beets, she explained, were glazed in a lemon marinade
then paired with a vegetable that tastes a bit like seaweed.
A light carpet of black rice rounded out the dish, and a creamy,
spicy sauce gave it some kick.
“I love cooking, and the flavors are designed to be craveable; to
be satisfying. Just like any other
food,” Bounahmidi said.
Convenience over health
As she sees it, the reason most of us struggle to eat well
is that convenient options usually only offer unhealthy
“We focus so much on what we’re eating on the weekends when we’re
out with friends and then feel guilty for having dessert or
over-eating, when really the problem isn’t what we’re eating on
two days of the week — it’s what we’re eating on the other five,”
With more than 100 meal-delivery apps to choose from across the
US, it’s easy to see why many people no longer leave their
offices for lunch. And those who work especially demanding
hours or have more than one job often don’t have time
to prepare or seek out a healthy lunch. In a recent
62% of professionals said they typically ate lunch at their
desks, a phenomenon that’s heralded social media hashtags
(#saddesklunch) and new social science vocabulary (“desktop
Most of “our choices aren’t actually choices. They’re made
because they’re convenient,” Bounahmidi said.
In this context, vending machines — a technology that has barely
changed since it was introduced as the “Automat” in 1912 — are
booming. Since 1995, the number of vending machines in the US has
grown 96% to a whopping 5.1 million,
according to the New York Times.
The main course
Next up was my main dish: a falafel bowl inspired by Bounahmidi’s
visits to Cairo. Like the others, it came in a reusable
glass container that can be returned to the leCupboard
staff at their Cafe location for a refund of $3. Eventually,
Bounahmidi envisions that a second machine next to the
first will allow customers to return their dishes and get
their refunds automatically.
Erin Brodwin / Business
This dish was also delightful, but I think I’d heat the falafel
next time for a slightly better flavor. Overall though, it
exceeded my expectations. The freshness of the tomatoes and
crunchiness of the kale shone through, and the falafel was savory
Bounahmidi said health is at the center of leCupboard’s mission.
The initiative is the customer-facing portion of a public benefit
corporation Bounahmidi founded called Looly, which has raised
over $2 million in funding according to AngelList. She is
currently working on a pilot project with several hospitals to
design meals for people with specific dietary needs, including
Celiac disease, Crohn’s, and diabetes.
I finished off my meal with a dessert called “le Versailles” — a
plant-based chocolate mousse sprinkled with sea salt,
raspberries, and pistachios.
Erin Brodwin / Business
As a chocolate lover, this was my favorite part of the meal. The
mouse was light and fluffy but rich, and the salt on top gave the
chocolatey sweetness a hint of savory — my favorite combination.
I could honestly see myself eating this at least once a week. And
I’d be more than happy to eat the rest of the meals that often as
well, as long as I could get $3 off the retail price after I
return my glass container.
For that to happen, though, I’ll have to wait until leCupboard
expands to some public locations, a goal Bounahmidi aims achieve
within the next few weeks.
“On our lunch breaks we go down the street to what’s easy and
cheap,” she said. “This solves that.”