Are storefronts selling frozen meals designed by noteworthy chefs one of the next big things? Steve Menza of Menza Foods thinks so, and he's planning to open his prototype—which he hopes is the first of many locations in Chicago and around the country—at 2201 N. Halsted Street in around six weeks. Named Frozen Foodies, it will sell dishes, frozen with "FreshFreeze" cryotechnology, by Rodelio Aglibot (Sunda, E+O), Lee Ann Whippen (Chicago Q), and multiple Lettuce Entertain You restaurants from inside a small storefront, carry-out only.
"We think (Frozen Foodies) is a complete game-changer in the food industry," Menza says. "We'll open a bunch of carry-out stores in Chicago before expanding to other markets."
In the works for five years now, these noteworthy chefs develop the recipes for Frozen Foodies. The food is designed and cooked in the Menza Foods plant in suburban Burr Ridge before being vacuum-sealed, cryogenically-frozen, and shipped to the storefront. Customers will browse the freezers there, which will be sectioned by cuisines and chefs, before taking the dishes home or to work and heating them in the microwave.
In the Lincoln Park prototype, expect food from Rodelio Aglibot, Lee Ann Whippen, Wildfire, Big Bowl, and other chefs and restaurants representing different cuisines. Menza says he'll recruit noteworthy chefs in other cities upon expansion. Dishes available at the first location will include Whippen's shrimp and grits and Aglibot's shrimp and pork dumplings. Each entree will cost between $4-8.
Chefs developing dishes and branding for frozen food lines is nothing new, but this may be the first where chefs help open a chain of storefronts that only sells their dishes. Chef-driven quick-delivery concepts are trendy lately, including the recently-launched in Chicago services Radish and Sprig. Carry-out-only chains selling cook-at-home dishes have also been done, such as Homemade Pizza Co., which ceased operations last year.
How will chef-backed storefronts selling frozen food do? Try it yourself later this summer at Halsted and Webster, and if Steve Menza's plan works, you may see Frozen Foodies sprout around Chicago and the rest of the country very soon.