A Hyde Park restaurateur known for meatless cheesesteaks and vegan Chicago-style hot dogs is expanding her local footprint into the suburbs with a new location. Chef and owner Laricia Chandler of meat-free restaurant Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat in late January launched a second location in suburban Orland Park, 25 miles southwest of Chicago.
Chandler has big dreams for her brand: “I want to travel the world and be the vegan In-And-Out Burger,” she says. “I want everyone to know the name.”
Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat is sharing the Orland Park space with the second location of Phlavz Bar and Grille. Chandler has been best friends with Phlavz co-owner Andrew “Dilla” Bonsu for a decade.
Her comfort food menu consists of meat-, dairy-, and egg-free items like vegan Buffalo shrimp, “Italian Not Beef” sandwiches, and fried mock chicken with mild sauce has expanded to add pizza in Orland Park. The 2,400-square-foot space houses a pizza oven, something Chandler didn’t have space in Hyde Park. Options include a Cali BBQ chicken (vegan or dairy cheese, onions, barbecue sauce) and a London Supreme (Italian vegan sausage, vegan or dairy cheese, spinach, mushrooms, giardiniera).
Unlike many Chicago restaurants, both Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat and Phlavz saw a surge in interest during the pandemic, with customers forming socially-distanced lines down the block to pick up carryout orders. Chandler describes her approach as “flexitarian” — a term to describe diners in the midst of transitioning to a vegan or vegetarian diet. “When you just call it vegan, sometimes people are scared,” she says.
Both restaurants feature counter service and have seats for 84 dine-in customers between them. Chicago and its surrounding suburbs currently allow a maximum of 25 percent capacity or 25 people per room. Owners have outfitted the space with purple neon signs — also seen at Phlavz original location — along with a wall covered in astroturf and black-and-white photo murals featuring famous Black politicians, artists, entertainers, and athletes. Though they share the space, Chandler is quick to note that her cooking equipment is separate Phlavz’s, which serves chicken wings and jerk burgers.
With her second location just off the ground, she’s already planning for a third outpost in suburban Naperville. Stay tuned for updates on that forthcoming project.