It’s been a journey for Kasia Bednarz and Britni DeLeon, the duo behind Fare, a quick-serve restaurant specializing in customizable healthy bowls with seasonal produce that launched inside Wells St. Market. The food hall closed due to a lack of downtown business during the pandemic in September 2020. Now, nearly three years later, Fare is ready to open its first standalone cafe in Downtown Chicago.
Bednarz, a South Side native who cut her teeth as an operations manager for Gibsons Restaurant Group, and DeLeon, a mother of three with a daughter who experiences severe food allergies, sprung into action. The two met at Gibsons, where Deleon was a private events manager. After the food hall closed, they began selling salads and ready-to-go meals at grocers including Urban Market and Local Foods. But their dream — to open a series of standalone locations whenever market conditions would allow — remained.
“What we always wanted to do with Fare was to get more into the neighborhoods,” DeLeon says. “To get into people’s homes a little bit.”
Fare scored a win when it returned as part of From Here On, 16” on Center’s food hall that opened earlier this summer inside the Old Post Office. But the bigger news comes this week when Fare will open its first location outside a food hall. The new restaurant is just north of the Willis Tower in the Loop. Bednarz says part of their enthusiasm for this location is that they’re not relying on office workers for business. They can reach customers outside of downtown with a delivery radius that goes north to about Lincoln Park and south to about South Loop. The new space, officially debuting Thursday, August 18 at 71 S. Wacker Drive, gives them more space to handle increased volume (they’ll be open for a promotion the day before). They’ll also have a full coffee and tea program with drinks from Passion House Coffee Roasters and Rishi Tea. The founders hope caffeine will give Fare an all-day cafe vibe, something they aim to translate to other locations in Chicago and the suburbs.
During their time downtown at the Old Post Office, DeLeon and Bednarz have noticed an increase in business. For employees coming into the office two or three times a week, eating out is a necessity. Not many bring their lunches to eat at their desks. They want to hang out with coworkers and dine out.
That presents an opportunity for Fare, which has a menu that includes smoky pulled chicken, turkey basil meatballs, and roasted salmon. It might be easy to dismiss their menus as Instagram-friendly millennial assembly line food (avocado toast, after all, is available all day), but the flavors and preparation make the food stand out in a crowded, competitive marketplace. There’s also something to be said for tasty food that customers can enjoy regardless of diet. But Bednarz points out indulgent choices like mac and cheese — Fare doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.
When the founders focused on expanding their cafes, they shut down their pandemic-era grocery operation. However, the retail side was illuminating, and they spoke with Bob Mariano, Chicago’s legendary grocery entrepreneur. Look for Fare to have a presence at Dom’s Kitchen & Market in the future. Retail isn’t the focus, but it’s nice to diversify business.
In the meantime, check out Fare’s new cafe. The project from two Chicago restaurant veterans debuts this week. Read the menus below.
Fare, 71 S. Wacker Drive, opening Thursday, August 18, open 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.