A pair of Chicago food entrepreneurs plan on bringing local energy to a prominent Loop space that previously housed national chains. Fons, billed as the world’s only completely vegan empanada shop, and Deep Purpl, a fast-growing chain with acai bowls and smoothies, plan to open a joint outpost in early April near Millennium Park.
The shared location at 32 E. Randolph Street will be Fons’s second and Deep Purpl’s sixth in the Chicago area, but the expansion — and its noteworthy location on the corner of Randolph and Wabash — represents a significant shift for both brands. In addition to its tourist-friendly geography just blocks from Millennium Park, the building previously housed side-by-side spots from baked goods giant Mrs. Fields and frozen yogurt chain TCBY — a unique setup that immediately attracted Deep Purpl founder Gabriel Fleury. As downtown traffic slowed during the pandemic due to work from home, Mrs. Fields folded. Fleury seeks to capitalize on downtown’s rebirth.
“It’s unusual to see one space with multiple vendors unless it’s a food court, but this place had it,” he says. “The location is expensive but with two people working together, that makes it more feasible.”
Fons co-founders and spouses Daniel Briceno and Daniela Crespo originally launched the empanada business virtually and popped up at farmers markets around the city before opening his first permanent store in February 2021 in Lincoln Park. It was there Briceno met Fleury, who operates a Deep Purpl on the same street, and the two quickly forged a friendship over shared experiences as young entrepreneurs, health food enthusiasts, and immigrants (Briceno is originally from Venezuela; Fleury is Brazilian).
“I like the fact that we’re both local to Chicago and started businesses here,” says Fleury. “[Briceno is] a great guy and we align in our thought processes. Our products match but they’re not directly competing against each other — I sell beverages and bowls, he sells vegan empanadas.”
Chicago enjoys a competitive empanada scene with entries from many South American countries, but Fons has made a name for itself with an unconventional approach (“fons” means “original” in Latin) that Briceno describes as a “patchwork” of flavor profiles from around the world. In practice, that means fillings inspired by Filipino lumpia wrapped in sriracha- and paprika-infused dough, Cuban-style ropa vieja made with jackfruit, and Italian Margherita pizza with vegan mozzarella that Briceno makes himself. The new location in the Loop will offer a few new submissions, including a breakfast empanada with carrot-based vegan chorizo and two other flavors he’s not yet ready to announce. It’ll also offer a new spicy garlic sauce and hibiscus lemonade.
Deep Purpl, founded in 2020, plans to keep the same customizable menu available at Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Hyde Park, and another in West Loop, plus suburban Evanston. They sell customers layered acai bowls in a variety of sizes with unlimited toppings (options include fruit, chia seeds, shredded coconut, nut butters, protein powder, and more). There’s also brightly colored fruit smoothies and protein smoothies. “We keep operations simple and don’t need a lot of space, so that allows us to open stores fairly easily,” Fleury says.
As they prepare to launch near Grant Park, both operators are casting an eye toward the future. Briceno aims to launch Fons’s first cafe with dine-in seating and menu options for gluten-sensitive customers in May at 605 W. Lake Street in West Loop. Fleury is already at work on a seventh store in Rogers Park and plans expand outside the Chicago area market in the spring with locations in San Francisco and Austin, Texas.
Despite the rapid growth, however, Fleury is reluctant to make too many predictions. “It’s hard to say right now since we’re still a startup, but I want to bring this brand around the U.S. and hopefully grow to more locations,” he says. “I don’t have a number but I do want to be a national brand that people will recognize and know it came out of Chicago.”