Like many people in the early weeks of the pandemic, Mike Evans found himself stuck in his home with nothing to do but eat, drink, and doomsday scroll through social media. Without work from his job of DJing, running a party bus, and working at restaurants, Evans spent almost every day grilling a rib stand, drinking a 12-pack of beer and a lot of Jameson, and wondering how to keep his candles on. To keep his mind occupied, he went so far down the Facebook rabbit hole that he jokes that he thinks he reached his end.
But instead of finding the carnivorous demon we all know lurking in these depths, Evans discovered his saving grace: an article about vending machines in Japan. Evans was struck by the impressive selection of vending machines on the other side of the world, and Evans was fascinated. Why did the United States not have such a robust vending machine culture, a culture that stretched beyond outdated trail mix packages, chips, and candy bars? From what he saw, the wide range of machines made it possible to offer almost everything out of them – even his favorite treats, hot cookies.
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Evans immediately began doing some research and was shocked at what he had found: No one had yet invented a vending machine with hot cakes. To him, it seemed like such a no-brainer; after spending most of his working life surrounded by people eating, drinking and being happy, a convenient, new way to get a hot and tasty sweet treat would definitely be a runaway hit. When he saw that such a thing did not exist, he began to experiment in his house by disassembling a mini-refrigerator and putting a heater in it. Convinced by his prototype that it could actually work, he contacted a vending machine manufacturer in Japan and spent the next six months going back and forth with various design ideas. After a lot of work, ridiculous Google Translate exchanges and trial and error, Evans connected his first vending machine with hot cakes, called Cookie Bot, on September 4, 2020.
Even before Cookie Bot came across the Pacific, Evans knew there had to be a lot more to his business than the machine. A self-described “cookie monster”, he has loved all kinds of cookies for as long as he can remember, and knew that if he had to fill a robot machine with baked goods, they would have to be delicious. Determined to be a cookie company first and a novelty second, he founded Alibi Cookies and set about perfecting his recipe. Satisfied that he was right, he launched Alibi’s online sales website. Cookie Bot came online just a few weeks later.
Instead of reinventing the cookie wheel (outside of his unique way of delivering them), Evans relied on proven recipes of classic flavors to fill Alibi’s shelves and Cookie Bots’ stomachs. But he had to navigate a lot of trial and error to play with the right combination of ingredients that would ensure that the cookies remained moist and the perfect texture for an entire day, even under the constant heat of the machine. Although he laughs at being a terrible baker when he was growing up, a taste of Alibi’s cookies proves he’s found the magic formula.
Getting past this news was an accomplishment, given how fun the experience of using Cookie Bot is. The machine, a large white box with red letters, is slightly wider and taller than a soda machine and has a clear glass front. Gold boxes with the Alibi label on contain three individually wrapped cookies, either of the same variety or a mixed “surprise” package. A touchscreen panel on the right side of the bottom has pictures of today’s items. Customers deposit their payment into the credit card slot, make their selections on the screen and watch as a sleek robotic arm rises to their desired choice, picking up the box and delivering it to a small square window that opens to reveal the treat. The whole process lasts no more than ten seconds.
What strikes you when you take the box off the machine is that it is really hot. This should be a matter of course; after all, a delivery system with hot cookies was Evans’ reason for founding Alibi in the first place. But the experience of dealing with something that feels so fresh from a machine just feels so different from a typical American vending machine experience. The unbelief continues when you take your first bite. A version with peanut butter chips, for example, has the heat and texture like a cookie that has just come from the oven. The edges are crisp, the interior soft, and the chips are still in the perfect condition, lying halfway between solid and melted. Even without the exciting machine, it is an excellent cookie that balances its sweetness with the saltiness of the peanut butter.
Like the peanut butter version, Evans brings a delicious take on the classic chocolate-chunk cookie. Here, too, the cookie maintains the perfect balance of softness and crunch, delivering a stunning melting hunk of milk chocolate in every bite. If this is not enough for chocolate lovers, Evans offers a double chocolate cake, which encloses the large chocolate pieces in rich, bittersweet dark chocolate dough. It is positively decadent.
Alibi’s ginger snap is striking in how much it tastes of real ginger. You can feel the pleasant stickiness of the root in small chunks throughout the crispy cookie; its spice is just as evident. Similarly, the oatmeal raisin has a generous amount of cinnamon heat in each bite, balancing the sweetness of the dried grapes. Equally impressive is the white-chocolate-macadamia cookie, which is crispier than other versions, and therefore allows it to stand up to the macadamia nuts scattered all over it. Toasted, sweet and buttery, Alibi’s version is perfection of form.
A s’more cookie comes with marshmallows, so sticky as if they had just been pulled from a campfire. Snickerdoodles are delightfully restrained in their sweetness, and a lemon-white-chocolate-chip cookie is so spectacular that Evans could only fill the Cookie Bot with this treat and still be a roaring success. The taste evokes the sweetness of a Meyer lemon, but it is balanced with butter and vanilla-flavored white chocolate chips so beautifully that you understand why Evans almost had a tumult on his hands when he briefly ran out of them.
All of these versions are available, at some point, from Cookie Bot, though Evans only offers a few treats in his storefront. Iced cookies, covered in either chocolate or vanilla frosting, are like individual cookie cakes sprinkled with everything from brownie bits to chocolate chunks. He also reserves his deluxe cookies only for in-store purchases, including deluxe peanut butter, which will send chocolate and peanut butter lovers across the moon. Here, chunks of chocolate peanutbutter cups are spread out over a thick, decadent peanutbutter dough, making it almost like a round brownie rather than a simple cookie. Evans even serves cookie shakes, each inspired by a different Dogtown institution, including the gansito cake (think Mexican Twinkie), sprinkles and chocolate syrup-laden Sunny’s Cantina. The shake was made to celebrate the restaurant’s twentieth anniversary; there could not have been a more indulgent tribute. Evans currently has two Cookie Bots with associated stores in Dogtown and Jefferson City. Another opens soon in St. Charles. For now, his model is to have a storefront near each machine (currently the machines are directly outside the stores), although he suspects that the Cookie Bot phenomenon will gain enough momentum for them to be able to to exist alone. Judging by the number of people queuing every night of the week between 6 p.m. 02.00 and 04.00 to enjoy Alibi’s warm, comforting treats – and his ability to produce delicious cookies that go beyond the novelty of the machine – is the limit of the sky.
1136 Tamm Avenue. Tue.-Sun. noon-22: 00 (closed Mondays.) Cookie Bot available 24/7.
Cookie Bot tre-pak $ 6.
Luxury peanut butter cup $ 2.37.
Sunny’s Cantina shake $ 6.
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