Burb's Eye View: A machine to satisfy that luxury impulse

Do not cry for the lonely caviar vending machine. Though it is the subject of much ridicule, it is a piece of art in its own right. It’s a fitting reflection, if you will, of our own hubris, standing guard over the Burbank Town Centre Mall atrium where Santa himself — the bastion of opulence and excess — holds court.

I stood before the Beverly Hills Caviar machine at length on Black Friday, oblivious to the whirl of commerce all about me. Its soft, glowing snack tray lazily melted in hue from blue to purple to red to orange. It entranced me as it did a child of no more than 4 or 5, who longingly reached for its shelf of elite trinkets, mesmerized by their twinkle.

I ran my fingers across its cold, impossibly laser-smooth touch screen. Here your desires are laid bare in vibrant ochre sans serif. For the discerning palate, your $500-an-ounce Imperial River Beluga is ready for you, complete with mother-of-pearl spoon. If you’re like the jet-setters for whom the machine is designed, and you just need something quick on the go, you can have Wasabi Tobikko for a pittance of $15.

The machine offers more.

“Is that perfume?” a man scoffed.

It is truffle oil, I felt like screaming, and is no more perfume than the caviar above it is a shoe-shine kit, or the truffle tins below are Gherkins pickles.

Kelly Stern, owner of Beverly Hills Caviar and sixth-generation caviar importer, said Burbank’s mall is the perfect location for the private-jet crowd from Bob Hope Airport who can’t always run back home to stock up before a trip. It’s an impulse buy, really, much like the delights from the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM located just outside her office.

And yes, it influenced the caviar machine’s design.

“It enables people to do business in retail even if they don’t have time for it,” she said.

Though machines were installed a week prior in Burbank, Topanga Canyon and Century City, Stern and her team spent the better part of a week ironing out the kinks for the refrigerated mansions that house the pre-packaged fish, truffles, escargot and other luxury fare.

Black Friday was the first day in business.

From 3 to 4 p.m., it enjoyed not a single sale. Two friends from Burbank put the machine under heavy scrutiny, but ultimately walked away.

“It’s kind of trashy,” said Marie Yokers. “I don’t know — I don’t trust it.”

Brennan Flynn told me its mere existence “left a lot of unanswered questions,” like how fresh the mall caviar was, and where it came from.

Ah, but to know its existence is to be one with its environs. Burbank’s mall has everything for everyone — surrounding its caviar vending machine is a watch and jewelry store, a Bath and Body Works, a photo booth and a man selling beauty products wearing a sleeveless Clippers jersey accented by tufts of armpit hair.

Opposite the machine are attractive displays for a watch store and Tuxedo Junction.

I visited the latter shop, wondering if people searching for cummerbunds arrived with fresh caviar tins. Tuxedo Junction employee Mo Sadi, a native of Iran and caviar aficionado himself, told me he hadn’t seen any customers toting fish eggs. If I did find some, he said, the delicacy would go well with some Grey Goose vodka.

He was unaware he could purchase caviar just upstairs.

People leered. People sneered. The caviar machine stood alone, a single bastion of luxury gleaming from the sale signs of Black Friday. It stood high above Santa’s seat on the bottom floor of the atrium.

Did children look up and wonder what the giant blue label was for? Did they ask Santa for a bottle of truffle oil to call their own this Christmas?

I don’t know, because when I asked to interview St. Nick I was shooed away by an elf. At last I understood the caviar vending machine’s plight — the bitter fish-egg taste of rejection.

BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn’t eschewing escargot, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.

Copyright © 2019, Burbank Leader
EDITION: California | U.S. & World