Revival Food Hall’s loss is Wicker Park’s gain as Graze, an acai bowl and smoothie stall, is moving into its first full-fledged restaurant space. Graze will close on November 27 inside Revival in the Loop. Ownership will pack up and regroup before opening inside the former Scone City sometime around the second week of December at 1632 W. Division Street.
The Wicker Park location, near a stretch of gyms and fitness studios, is the start of an expansion for Graze. Owner Mason Edelson wants to open multiple locations over time. But it’s a gradual process, and he doesn’t want to oversaturate Chicago with too many restaurants.
Besides Revival, Graze has locations inside the Studio Three fitness studios in River North and Lincoln Park. The restaurant is popular with fitness buffs, those wanting lighter meals, and customers with dietary restrictions. The menu is dairy-, meat-, and gluten-free. Yes, that means it’s vegan and healthy. But Edelson doesn’t like those terms.
“I’d rather be known as good food that happens to be healthy because that kind of changes the mindset,” he said. “There’s connotations and I don’t want to alienate anybody.”
Edelson is excited for Graze’s independence. Though he learned a lot inside Revival Food Hall, he also had to abide by rules including signage restrictions. Management wants some kind of brand consistency inside their space. But in Wicker Park, Edelson said customers should be ready for bombastic and fun decor. He’ll also expand the menu to 25 items. The Revival stall has nine choices, while the River North location has 15. New items include three versions of warm oats (vanilla matcha, banana mocha, cinnamon apple) and soup with sweet potato, turmeric coconut, curry, and hemp seeds. There’s also avocado toast and protein shakes. The new Graze will also have a full coffee program from Passion House Coffee Roasters.
Graze developed differently from the other restaurants inside Revival. Aloha Poke Company, Antique Taco, the Budlong, and Smoque were established brands before Revival’s owner, 16” on Center, came calling to look for restaurants to fill its space. Revival was Graze’s first location, opening in 2016.
Initially, it was a collaboration with Sarah Jordan, the acclaimed pastry chef who went savory and opened the rebooted Johnny’s Grill in Logan Square. During it’s all-too-short lifespan, Johnny’s burger became its most popular item. Revival’s management wanted Jordan to bring the burger to the Loop. Edelson, who often travels to California, became enamored with acai, the superfood that’s popular in Hawai’i and on the West Coast. He told Jordan, his former coworker at GT Fish and Oyster, about his restaurant idea that focused on healthy grain and fruit bowls. The two then decided to work together.
But after all, the partnership wasn’t working, and Graze decided to phase out its hot menu items and go meat- and dairy-free. It moved into a new space at Revival and added smoothies. Looking back, Edelson said the experience at Revival showed him customers develop routines. At first they’d head straight to the fried chicken or the brisket. It took customers a while to find Graze as a healthy and filling alternative.
“We had to work extra hard — double time, overtime, triple time — to get people to see that we’re just as satisfying, just as filing, and extremely delicious,” Edelson said.
Though there are other restaurants vying for customers in Chicago’s wellness community, places like Protein Bar and Real Good Food Co., Edelson doesn’t see them as competition. The fight for customers is more with traditional fast-food and quick-serve restaurants, he said.
Much of Graze’s popularity is due to health bloggers and fitness junkies on social media. Edelson knows much of Chicago’s restaurant royalty may not accept Graze fully, but he knows their tricks. Edelson has worked with two of Chicago’s largest restaurants groups, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and Boka Restaurant Group.
Chicago’s more of a challenging city to offer fresh fruit versus the coasts, which don’t have to worry about winters that are as harsh. But Graze has a seasonal menu. A few core items remain in addition to rotating specials like a vanilla protein pumpkin bowl.
Revival won’t be devoid of vegan options. Construction recently started on the Art of Dosa. Meanwhile, though Graze is leaving the Loop, Edelson said it’ll still serve downtown Chicago with deliveries. Come back for an opening date when one’s available.