The owners behind Aloha Poke Co., Chicago’s first chain of poke restaurants, have teamed up with a pair of industry veterans for another bowl-based restaurant focusing on breakfast and “desk snacks” for office workers. Aviato Eats aims to introduce Chicagoans to acai bowls the same way Aloha Poke did with raw fish bowls. Acai, a Brazilian “superfood,” is often found at juice bars and smoothie shops. Acai bowls come with yogurt, fruit, and oatmeal, an alternative to bland coffee shop grab-and-go items. It’s like a smoothie in a bowl.
Aviato opened a week ago at Chicago’s French Market in the West Loop, where Zach Friedlander opened his first Aloha Poke in 2015. HBO’s Silicon Valley inspired Aviato’s name, as “Aviato” is the name of a fictional start-up company on the TV show. Friedlander said they filed a trademark to use the name for food purposes. He’s hopeful that one day they’ll convince actor T.J. Miller to drop by for a photo.
Regardless of a potential spokesman, the Aviato Eats team sees an opportunity. Starbucks has struggled with food and commuters want healthier options. Like the coffee chain, Aviato’s food comes in plastic bowls that are ideal for travel. Friedlander hopes to distance his restaurant from competitors by using “premium” ingredients. The new spot also serves matcha bowls with matcha from Rare Tea Cellars, a favorite supplier for many top Chicago restaurants.
Aviato’s acai comes straight from Brazil. Thai banana, overnight oats, and organic granola are among the other ingredients, which Friedlander says are ethically-sourced. Jordan Heflin, a Hogsalt vet who counts Brendan Sodikoff as a beloved mentor, is developing the recipes. Heflin concentrates on balancing flavors and textures.
“We’re using organic whenever we can,” Heflin said. “People care more about the grade of gas they put in their car more than what they put in their bodies — it’s sad.”
Prices start at $8.50 a bowl, and the team feels the cost undercuts competitors like Real Good Juice Co. and Left Coast Food + Juice. In the suburbs, Jar Bar is doing them, too. To entice diners to try the bowls, Aviato’s giving away free Limitless Coffee. Guests don’t even have to make a purchase for a free cup of drip, Friedlander said.
Aviato’s third arm is Alexios Milioulis, who worked at the Federal Reserve before diving into the night club scene as a floor manager. He later began working in business development and marketing, and has worked at DineAmic Group (Bar Siena) as director of hospitality. He raved about acai’s value to the consumer. While acai bowls are new to Chicago, they’re already popular in New York, Southern California, and Miami.
“I feel we’re on the forefront to introduce this item and getting Chicagoans accustomed to it,” Milioulis said.
That sounds similar to what Friedlander said when he opened Aloha Poke, a successful business that draws long lunchtime lines. Friedlander recently unveiled a larger Aloha Poke counter the French Market, closing the original space. He also plans an aggressive expansion for the poke shops and has attracted a million-dollar investor with Levy Family Partners. The trio want to grow Aviato, but are reluctant to put pressure on the brand. They didn’t share targeted numbers.
Aviato is the second concept coming from Friedlander’s Pineapple & Dreams Hospitality. The Angry Crab’s Alvin Kang is also a partner in the group. Friedlander—whose creed has become “live each day and each bowl to its fullest”—feels the group is poised to take the torch from established groups like Hogsalt, One Off, Boka, and DMK. They’ve got more announcements in the pipeline, so stay tuned.