Is opening a restaurant in an entrepreneurial hub the best way to solicit operational ideas? The fast-casual, health-minded chain Freshii is about to find out. Its latest Chicago location, which opened in September and sits at the entrance of tech hub 1871, is set up as an incubator of sorts, soliciting solutions within eight categories—spanning menu, disposal, refrigeration, efficiency and seating—from employees of the 325-plus startup companies that set up shop next door.
Location: 1871 co-working space in Chicago’s River North neighborhood
Footprint: 1,400 square feet
Sample price: A Ninja Salad with Asian dressing is $6.49
This article appeared in the December issue of Restaurant Business, FSD’s sister publication.
Through its Project </Pioneer> campaign, Freshii is seeking ideas using call-to-action messages throughout the store from members of 1871 and entrepreneurs around the globe. Once an idea is chosen, it will be tested at the restaurant for anywhere from one month to one year, depending on its level of success, franchisee Alex Blair says.
“The wealth of ideas that we’ve generated so far is impressive,” he says. “We’ve had some suggestions that are a huge departure from our idea train—which is fantastic because it gives us an entirely new perspective on hyper-focused details of our business.”
The location was built using the chain’s most updated design style, Blair says, with an eye toward sustainability. Countertops were constructed from recycled paper—a Freshii first—and reclaimed wood was used throughout. Some of the decor, including a backlit sign bearing mantras such as “Let’s love kale,” was repurposed from tables used by the space’s former occupant, an Intelligentsia coffee shop.
With no street access or exterior signage, the 36-seat location relies largely on word of mouth to get people in the door. Customers love the new store, Blair says. “To have a brand like Freshii inside 1871 gives startups the opportunity to fuel properly on the turn of a dime.”