CHICAGO — Chicagoans heading to a comedy show at The Second City will now notice the alluring smell of chorizo and bacon wafting from across the street. Its source: the breakfast tacos on the expanded foodservice menu at Foxtrot Market’s newest location, which opened in August in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.
“Our breakfast tacos are by far our best-selling breakfast item,” said Mike LaVitola, co-founder and CEO of Foxtrot Market, Chicago, which has seven convenience stores in Chicago and one in Dallas, during a recent CSP visit.
Foxtrot’s newest store offers a variety of made-to-order and grab-and-go foodservice items in addition to coffee, snacks, craft beer, gelato, toiletries, scented candles, picture books and novels. And while prepared foodservice is part of each Foxtrot Market, this location has an updated made-to-order menu featuring traditional and unique items.
“There’s always a balance of having offerings that everyone would want and fun items to discover,” said Crystal Tao, vice president of communications and brand relations for Foxtrot. “We want to strike that balance and offer a little something for everyone.”
Every Foxtrot location offers an all-day breakfast menu. Tao’s favorite is the Spicy Chicken Biscuit Sandwich, which features spicy panko chicken, bread and butter pickles and honey atop a cheddar biscuit. This was one of the first foodservice items Foxtrot ever tested, and it is in every store, she said. But the Old Town store features several new, exclusive items. They include:
- Elote Avocado Toast, which stars the flavors of Mexican grilled corn, including roasted corn, heirloom tomatoes, cotija cheese, cilantro and elote aioli. Its price point is $10.
- The Lox & Key sandwich ($11), a stack of smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, cucumber and onion on a toasted bagel.
- The Fox Trap ($6.50), which combines baked eggs, cheddar cheese, avocado, baby kale, and zhoug—a spicy cilantro sauce—atop an everything bagel.
Foxtrot’s newest breakfast taco, Rajas, contains roasted poblano peppers, onions, potatoes, cilantro and pickled jalapeno peppers. It joins standard breakfast tacos such as Migas, a mix of avocado, poblano peppers, tortilla chips, tomatoes, onion and cilantro; Chorizo, a combination of potato and chorizo; and Bacon. Tacos are priced at $3 each.
The new store also offers Whole Grain Bowls, which are $9. These come in two varieties: Farro Pesto, a mixture of asparagus, baby yellow squash, roasted shallots, heirloom tomatoes, baby kale, pickled golden raisins, vegan basil pesto and toasted hemp seeds; and Ginger Buddah, a combination of quinoa, brown rice, charred broccolini, turmeric chickpeas, pickled cabbage, pea shoots, watermelon radish, avocado, ginger vinaigrette and sesame seeds.
While Foxtrot offers made-to-order fruit smoothies at every location, the Old Town store has four new varieties:
- Blue Moon features pineapple, banana, coconut, apple, lemon and blue majik spirulina.
- Acai Berry is a mixture of acai, blueberry, raspberry, banana, dragon fruit, hemp seed and almond butter.
- The Cure is a combination of kale, apples, coconut, dates, lemon, avocado, matcha and plant-based protein.
- Maca Mocha features almond butter, bananas, cacao beans, dates and maca powder.
Each smoothie, priced at $8, can be customized with plant-based protein for an extra $1; or made into a smoothie bowl, featuring coconut flakes, hemp seeds, dragon fruit, berries and granola for an extra $2.
Foxtrot updates its menu seasonally and often uses customer feedback in deciding which items to sell, Tao said. The retailer surveys customers regularly on which foods they’ve enjoyed, which ones they haven’t and what they’d like to see offered down the line. The survey results are then combined with research and development takeaways from Brad Alexander, Foxtrot’s head chef. Alexander often travels to various events and restaurants nationwide to discover what’s trending on menus and what flavors and items consumers want, Tao said. She calls his approach and the customer surveys Foxtrot’s “best resources.”
“[The customer surveys] help us learn for the next season on what to add or bring in that people are excited about,” Tao said. “They let us see what our customers are interested in buying and what they enjoy while they’re here.”
With Foxtrot Market’s sophisticated menu, finding qualified kitchen staff can be difficult, especially because these employees often require previous training and certifications. Foxtrot seeks kitchen leaders with previous restaurant experience, LaVitola said.
“We got really fortunate with [Alexander],” Tao said. “He was looking to do something new and we had just decided to focus on prepared foods. We knew we needed a chef on board to do that.”
Prior to joining Foxtrot in 2018—his first venture into the c-store industry—Alexander was a kitchen manager for Outback Steakhouse and eventually held executive chef roles at Chicago-based restaurants such as Rosebud Restaurants, Restaurants America, Bel 50, Goddess Restaurant Group and Left Coast Food + Juice. As executive chef for Foxtrot, Alexander sources ingredients and curates every menu item through research and development, in conjunction with Foxtrot’s seasonal consumer survey.
Alexander works out of the company’s commissary in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. Because Foxtrot doesn’t have any full kitchens in its stores, this commissary is where every made-to-order item is cooked, LaVitola said.
“Brad is a classically trained chef,” LaVitola said. “We depend on him to figure out how to deliver that type of foodservice experience in the c-store setting.”
Alexander also hires and trains the kitchen staff who work alongside him at the commissary. Many of these people were his former restaurant associates, Tao said. Their training includes a step-by-step process centered on food preparation and operations, such as what dishes to make each day and efficiently delivering these items from the commissary to the stores.
Each Foxtrot store always has a minimum of four kitchen members on site, and that number may increase to seven during busy hours, LaVitola said.
“We always have a barista on staff to run coffee and the cafe side of service,” he said. “The rest flips between cooks and checkout and filling online orders.”
But safety is the top priority for staff, Tao said. Every Foxtrot employee is trained to use the kitchen equipment, such as the bean-to-cup coffee machines and TurboChef ovens, even if they aren’t always working in that area, she said.
“Safety training is crucial,” she said. “We go above and beyond to make sure we’re in compliance with safety regulations.”
Foxtrot’s 3,650-square-foot Old Town location has a lounge with seating for 50, and an outdoor patio offers room for 30 more—more than any other location, Tao said. The cafe and seating area are meant to be a “home away from home,” where customers can work, relax and meet up with friends, she said.
“We value curation, convenience and community, and the Foxtrot experience is about bringing together those values for our guests,” she said.
But indoor and outdoor seating isn’t Foxtrot’s only community builder. The company has avoided installing kiosks or frictionless ordering, believing that face-to-face interactions boost customer engagement.
“Having the face-to-face interaction is a big part of our community-driven hub,” Tao said. “We want to optimize the shopping experience, but we also want the hospitality side to be warm and welcoming.”
The company’s technology initiatives instead focus on delivery. Foxtrot offers delivery for nearly every item, ranging from grab-and-go meals to alcohol, through its mobile app and online. It delivers all products via bicycles, within an hour—guaranteed. The new made-to-order items are the only products not available for delivery, because Foxtrot cannot completely ensure the quality when the customer receives it. This has been an ongoing challenge for the brand, Tao said.
“We don’t know if the made-to-order dishes will be the same consistency when they get to you,” she said. “But prepared salads, for instance, will stay the same. We know that when they get to you, they’ll be just as good as they would be in the store.”
While breakfast and brunch offerings have been successful, Foxtrot’s next foodservice goal is to build in-store traction for dinner, LaVitola said.
“We want to boost our dinner occasions,” he said. “People come in on the prepared-foods side for salads, sandwiches and entrees to take home and bake. They’re mostly coming in to eat at home vs. in the store.”
This initiative will take patience and timing—key essentials for tackling any foodservice hurdle, Tao said.
“We want things to happen quickly, but we need be smart about how we grow,” she said. “That means knowing [which markets] we’re growing toward and what initiatives we want to prioritize. We want to shoot for the moon, but also be smart about prioritizing and moving at the right pace.”