The vending machine is like the watering hole at Freestyle Martial Arts Academy in Northfield.
As a children's class wrapped up on a recent weeknight, the kids each ran to their parents begging for dollars and loose charge, then crowded around the vending machine, looking over their options.
Watching, Freestyle Martial Arts owner and headmaster Brian Moragne said the vending machine has been one of the best investments he has made as a small business owner.
Moragne didn't mean that in a purely monetary sense. Freestyle's vending machine isn't your typical vending machine. It's a Slender Vendor, a vending machine developed by Somers Point resident Linda Rivera, which is packed with healthy snacks and beverages such as Clif Bars, Popchips and Vitaminwater, as well as several gluten-free, nut-free and certified organic options.
The Northfield martial arts academy is one of three small businesses in Atlantic and Cape May County to have a Slender Vendor machine. The others are in the Brigantine Aquatic Center and It's a Gimmie, a new sporting goods store in Ocean City. The business owner gets 10 percent of the profit from the machine and Rivera gets the remaining 90 percent.
Rivera launched her business about a month ago and is starting small by targeting local small businesses and hoping to grow from there.
She chooses and taste-tests every single product she put into her machines and restocks them according to what sells best and what people ask for. Her main goal is to prove to people that eating healthy snacks doesn't mean eating tasteless snacks.
"Some people assume eating healthy means things that taste like cardboard, but that's so far from the case. Try eating just one bag of these cookies," Rivera said, as she held up a bag of Home Free chocolate chip cookies, a brand that is certified organic and free of peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy.
She also tries to keep her prices competitive, between 75 cents and $1.50 per item, so as to not deter people from making a purchase.
The machine itself is also pretty cool: It's ADA-compliant with the bill insert located at about knee level, it accepts credits cards, it has a video screen that plays advertisements on the products inside the machine and on the small businesses that hosts them and it gives a calorie count on each selection.
Moragne said he used to have a basic vending machine in his business, but when he thought more about his mission of promoting health and wellbeing through the practice of martial arts, he realized the a junk food filled vending machines didn't fit in.
"It's kind of like smoking a cigarette while you work out," he said.
He's had the Slender Vendor for a few weeks now and so far its been met with a positive response from his students.
"They love it and I love it," Moragne said. "I can't get my hands off of it."
Gayle Brown, of Atlantic City, whose 11-year-old son Machi Brown-Parker had just persuaded her to buy him a GoGo squeeZ applesauce from the machine, said, "I think it's great. They're working out, staying fit, and it's pointless to be active and then to turn around and eat a bag of Doritos."
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