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Native Foods Café tests Express unit in Chicago

Brand eyes smaller, nontraditional locations

Native Foods Café debuted Monday its first Express unit to test the possible rollout of a quicker version of the fast-casual, meat-free brand.

The Chicago-based chain converted an existing location in the city’s West Loop neighborhood, which already did a brisk lunch business, said Native Foods Café CEO Craig Grimes.

“We realized, being in some high-business districts, that there was a big demand for quicker service than our standard five to seven minutes,” Grimes said. “We were getting feedback from guests that it would be nice to be in and out and get back to their offices.”

At the Express location, the menu was streamlined into several options at one price in four categories: “On the Bun,” or sandwich options, priced at $10.59; wraps, priced at $9.99; salads, priced at $9.79; and bowls, priced at $9.99.

Fries are included in the price for sandwiches and wraps, or guests can upgrade to another side dish, Grimes said.

As at all Native Foods locations, the plant-based dishes are cooked to order and made from scratch.

Photo: Native Foods Café

“It was streamlining the decision-making process,” Grimes said. “It’s less about shopping for price and more about looking for your favorite item.”

Guests can order and pay ahead online or via the chain’s mobile app. The Express location has a set of cubbies for those guests to pick up their order without waiting in line.

Coolers, which used to be filled with desserts, now have a selection of grab-and-go salads and other dishes.

Guests who choose to order in the restaurant receive pagers that indicate when their food is ready.

Though the West Loop location is about 3,000 square feet, the Express design could fit into locations as small as 1,000 square feet, which opens the door for Native Foods to move into both urban and nontraditional locations, including airports or college campuses.

Considering the demand for vegetarian and vegan options among college students, the latter is a “no brainer,” Grimes said.

With 26 restaurants in six states, Native Foods aims to reach 200 units within the next five years. It does not currently plan to franchise.

Last year, the chain announced a $15 million investment by two private-equity firms, Laurel Crown Partners LLC and Huntington Capital.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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