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Baker's baguette idea isn't half-baked

France is the home of the baguette, that savory, crisp staple of a fabled gastronomy. But just try getting a fresh one in the evening, or on a holiday, or even in August, when many of the country's 33,000 bakeries are closed.

Jean-Louis Hecht thinks he has the answer.

The baker from northeast France has rolled out a 24-hour automated baguette dispenser, promising warm bread for hungry night owls, shift workers or anyone else who didn't have time to pick one up during their bakery's opening hours.

"This is the bakery of tomorrow," proclaimed Hecht, who foresees expansion in Paris, around Europe and even the United States. "If other bakers don't want to enter the niche, they're going to get decimated." For now, though, that's a lot of talk.

He's only operating two machines -- one in Paris, another in the town of Hombourg-Haut in northeastern France -- each next to his own bake shops. The vending machines take partly precooked loaves, bake them up and deliver them steaming within seconds to customers, all for one euro ($1.42).

Despite the expansion of fast-food chains, millions of French remain true to their beloved baguette: It's the biggest breakfast basic -- most often with butter and jam -- and the preferred accompaniment for lunch, dinner and cheese.

-- AP

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