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VendingBiz.bizUkrainian Immigrant Engineer's Study of United States Culture Inspires His Creation of Unique Hot Dog Vending Machine
By John DeGiovanni

Owings Mills, Md. - November 5, 2003 - Leon Leykin didn't expect the overwhelmingly positive reception his hot dog vending machine received at the recent National Automatic Merchandising Association National Expo.

"We expected some reaction," Leykin, president of LHD Vending, told, "but not like the reaction it got. At the NAMA Expo the machine cooked and dispensed 500 hot dogs. My director, Don Spero, said, 'Wow!'"

Indeed, Leykin and the three other individuals who comprise the personnel of his company were quite busy conferring with curious show-goers about his "LHD1400 Hot Dog Vending Machine" during October's NAMA Expo in Washington, DC.

The vast majority of those visiting the LHD Vending booth walked away with a good taste in their mouth once they had sampled the finished product produced by Leykin's invention - and said they couldn't tell the difference between LHD's grilled hot dog and the hot dog cooked on a traditional grill, he added.

In addition to conventional hot dogs, operators can stock the machine with a total of four different selections -- including turkey and veggie dogs, cheeseburgers shaped as hot dogs, cheese sticks and kielbasa - to offer variety to their customers.

An engineer, Leykin moved to the United States in 1989 from the Ukraine, where he first embarked on his career of conceptualizing and designing vending machines. Prior to establishing LHD Vending, Leykin worked 10 years as a manufacturing engineer for Fusion Systems Corporation, located in Rockville, Md.

"I remember being in college late at night and I was hungry," Leykin said. "I always thought that a vending machine that could freshly prepare food would be a great idea."

Following his arrival in the U.S., Leykin began an intensive study of American culture to find a marketable product for his brainstorm.

"I like to study, I'm a curious guy," he said. "From what I learned, I thought it would be easy to penetrate the U.S. market with a hot dog vending machine. I learned that 10 percent of the population wants to eat a hot dog every day. I learned that the best locations would be offices, plants, schools and hospitals."

So, in 1999, Leykin began designing the hot dog vending machine in the basement of his Maryland home. He also approached Spero, his former boss at Fusion Systems, for assistance in raising money to finance the project.

After the prototype was built, Leykin sought the counsel of vending industry veteran Steve Koenigsberg of State Sales & Service in Baltimore. Koenigsberg's guidance proved invaluable.

"Because of Steve, we completely changed our approach," Leykin recalled. "We then took up to a year to improve the design and test the machine.

"There were many challenges," Leykin continued. "We had to make sure that there was uniformity in the cooking of the different sizes of hot dogs that can be placed in the machine."

By 2002 Leykin had completed three machines, which he used for location tests. He also meticulously recorded feedback from those testing the finished product dispensed by his creation.

"From those three machines - really, almost from just two of them - we sold 30,000 hot dogs."

The "LHD 1400 Hot Dog Vending Machine" is now in its second production run, with 10 units being completed. In addition to offering them for sale, Leykin has a monthly leasing plan for operators and locations. Operators can stock the machines with hot dogs (or kielbasa, cheese sticks, etc.) buns, and condiments to suit their customers' preferences.

"We provide only the technology," Leykin explained, adding that his company is currently negotiating with a major equipment supplier to manufacture the "LHD 1400 Hot Dog Vending Machine."

The vending machine measures an industry standard 72 inches high by 45 inches long by 30 inches wide, and has a capacity of 600 hot dogs (six modules, with up to 100 hot dogs each) and 300 buns (two modules with 150 buns each).

The machine features state-of-the-art technology, including a specially designed cooking unit that uses infrared and microwave technology; food "Expiration Date Control"; wireless communication modem and self-contained refrigeration module. The machine accepts up to 85 percent of existing hot dog products, regardless of brand and manufacturer, and requires only a few minutes to stock by the same personnel who stock soft drink and snack machines. A condiment compartment allows for the storage of mustard, ketchup, relish, etc.

The "Hot Dog Vending Machine" also features a baked enamel cabinet and customizable back-lit, four-color graphics.

"We're very pleased with the reaction to our vending machine," Leykin said. "We believe it is going to be very popular with operators and their customers."