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World’s First Vegan Empanada Shop to Debut in Chicago

Fons will feature lumpia, ropa vieja, and Margherita fillings

A cluster of empanadas.
Fons will serve vegan empanadas.
Fons [Official Photo]
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

What’s billed as the world’s only 100 percent vegan empanada shop should open later this month or in early March in Chicago. Fons takes an unconventional approach to the beloved South American delicacy, with plant-based fillings like Filipino-style lumpia, Cuban-style ropa vieja, and even an Italian-inspired Margherita made with a vegan mozzarella created by chef and co-owner Daniel Briceno.

Briceno and wife Daniela Crespo hail from Merida, Venezuela. He’s handling the food operations, while Crespo — an architect and graphic designer — handles the branding. Briceno was a mechanical engineer in Venezuela before moving to New York where he worked at Jajaja Plantas Mexicana, a vegan mini chain in the Big Apple.

The couple then moved to Chicago and instead of working in the kitchen, Bricena — a plant-based chef — focused on the front of the house. He was doing research with the dream of eventually opening a restaurant.

Luck would have it that Lito’s Empanadas, a Lincoln Park fixture, was moving into a larger location on Clark Street, a few blocks south of its original location. That left a vacancy for Fons.

While Lito’s serves more Argentinian-style empanadas (“Every single country has their own,” Bricena reminds.), Fons will serve empanadas that are five inches in diameter. They’re hesitant to call them “Venezuelan style” thanks to the untraditional ingredients. Bricena hopes the branding sticks and customers will just called them “Fons” (the world means “origin” in Latin). He also hopes to open other locations across the city.

“Chicago is a super diverse city,” he Bricena says. “Our goal is to fill them with different flavors from around the world.”

The empanadas will also be in available as take and bakes. Customers can make use of those air fryers that were gifted over the holidays. Bricena says air fryers ensure a crisp and fresh product. Fons uses a variety of ingredients for its vegan products, using spinach and beet proteins to ensure the right textures. Tinga is made with dehydrated and marinated jackfruit. There are 12 varieties, including tinga and smoky mushroom.

The shells are brightly colored, which mades them Instagram friendly and fun. Bricena is confident that he can satisfy any type of vegan, from those who miss certain meaty textures, to those who don’t use those memories as a crutch. He says omnivores will also take to Fons, and touted a vegan garlic dip that he’s excited to serve. They’ll also have a full espresso bar and serve fresh-squeezed juices.

The brand launched in 2020 as an e-commerce store. They’ve also made appearances at area farmers markets. Bricena wants to seize the opportunity to bring healthier and more flavorful plant-based options to Chicago.

“I feel this is something that’s growing right now, and the main idea is that people are more conscious and are wanting something more natural,” he says.

VegNews first reported the story.

Fons, 2566 N. Clark Street, scheduled for a late Februrary or early March opening.