Native Foods – The Loop & Wicker Park
One of the first vegan restaurant memories I have is of the Native Foods in Costa Mesa, California. I was a newbie vegan, less than a year in and was vacationing in California with a friend. My friend was vegetarian at the time and during a drive up to Los Angeles we stopped to have a bite to eat. I don’t think I even realized that the restaurant was vegan. I just remember ordering a taco salad and having it arrive with taco “meat” on it just blew my mind. Something like this exists?! It’s all a bit hazy. I must have temporarily passed out or something.
Fast forward six-ish years later and I get to fully experience not one but two awesome Native Foods restaurants in the Chicago area. This place is rockin’ it with their brand messaging swagger, team work, and vegan restaurant takeover. Being a marketing person I can be pretty particular about how a company is handling their outreach and image. Especially when it comes to businesses that I really, really, really want to see succeed, it kills me when they’re not taking advantage of simple ways to improve, say their website, or social media outreach. I could go on and on about this – and perhaps I will in an upcoming post ;) – but for now I’ll just say this: Native Foods has got it going on. Their food is incredibly delicious, their customer relationship management is phenomenal, their decor is heart warming, and their marketing is relatively solid. If there are any restaurant owners reading this keep your eyes on Native Foods for inspiration on what works.
Ethan and I were wandering around downtown Chicago and stumbled upon the Native Foods in The Loop. Happy day!! They had actually only been open for two or three days. Combine that with an afternoon lunch crowd and you’ve got a crazy full, packed beyond reason, restaurant. Oh how it filled my heart with joy to see a vegan restaurant busting at the seams with customers. OooOoo I’m all giddy over here now! :)
Native Foods Café – 100% Vegan
218 South Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60604
They have recipes up on the walls. What a friggin’ great idea!
One of the things Native Foods should be known for (if they’re not already) is the incredible artwork they hang around the restaurant. The one above was in the ladies restroom. Love.
We had a bit of a wait given the crowd and as a ‘thanks for waiting’ treat we were given a complementary Peanut Butter Parfait – creamy whipped peanut butter filling layered between Boogie Bar crumbles and chocolate chips. Sweetened with agave. Yes. It IS as good as it sounds. :)
For sides, we ordered the Native Fries – thinly-cut, cooked in pure vegetable oil and seasoned sweet potato fries; and a Mini-Greens Salad – salad greens, beets, carrots, sprouts, sunflower seeds, croutons and balsamic vinaigrette.
Ethan had the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger – thinly sliced Native Original Seitan, melted cheddar, carmalized onions, and crispy native Bacon on a bun slathered with BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, romaine, carrots, onions, and tomato. Topped with crunchy battered dill pickle chips. *** Yes, those are deep fried pickles on top, my friends. DEEP. FRIED. PICKLES.
I had to do it. I had to have the first thing I ever ate as a newbie vegan in Native Foods flagship location: the Yo Amigo Taco Salad – a blend of romaine, cabbage, Native Taco Meat, and salsa fresca. Topped with corn, green onion, cilantro, and tortilla chip croutons. Served with Native’s original creamy chipotle dressing on the side.
We went back for round two and had a few of the same things… but a few new things as well. Here we have the Tandoori Kabobs – grilled skewers of Native Original Seitan and tofu, marinated in Tandoori spices, topped with mango-apple chutney and served on a bed of baby greens with Native’s homemade raita yogurt sauce. We also opted for the Chef’s Garden Pizza – housemade garlic tofu ricotta and grilled zucchini topped with a garden of freshly made giardiniera and pesto drizzle.
We didn’t want one Native Foods location to get jealous of the other so naturally we had to sample the menu at the Wicker Park location too. The menu items were pretty much the same but the locations were decorated a little differently. A nice consistency that we noticed was the incredibly friendly staff. Both locations truly have outstanding service.
Native Foods Café – 100% Vegan
1484 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622
It wasn’t nearly as crowded as newly-opened-restaurant-in-downtown-chicago-during-lunch-hour was, so I was able to get a few more pics of the artwork around this location.
We dined with our friends Liz, Steve, and Sarah (from The Ordinary Vegetarian). You know what that means…triple-as-many food pics! ;)
Pictured below is the Double Cheeseburger Deluxe – crumbled Original Native Seitan smothered with marinara sauce, melted cheddar cheese, pickles, onions and tomato, topped with Native’s secret ‘sweet mustard’ sauce.
I think this one is the Gandhi Bowl. Although it might instead be the Sesame Kale Macro Bowl. Eek! I can’t remember and unfortunatly the menu descriptions don’t help. Either way, looks yummy, no!? :)
Here we have an order of Native Chicken Wings (these things are friggin’ amazing as all get out!) – crispy battered Native Chicken wings with a side of ranch (or buffalo sauce).
This is the Rockin’ Moroccan Bowl – tofu marinated in homemade Moroccan sauce with grilled veggies and quinoa. Topped with currants and toasted almonds.
Here we have the Greek Gyro – thinly sliced Native Peppered Seitan sautéed with shallots on quinoa, steamed vegetables, and kale with lemon garlic sauce and hummus. Served with grilled flatbread.
Native Foods currently has thirteen locations and plans to open an additional fifteen this year. So awesome. How is it that Native Foods is able to expand so quickly like this? From the outside looking in it appears that they have a clearly defined and highly focused target audience, a phenomenal management system in place, excellent branding strategies, effective marketing, and superior customer relationship management. In addition, the Chicago rumor mill has it that a woman stopped in at one of the locations and nearly walked out once she realized she was in a vegan restaurant. Supposedly Chef Tanya told her that she would personally prepare this woman’s food and she guaranteed that she’d love it. And that’s exactly what happened! The woman fell in love with Native Foods and invested in the company. I have no idea to what degree she invested or if it’s even a true story. But if it is, it’s pretty cool and goes to show that you just never know who you might meet next and what impact they could have on your life/business. If you do run a business this is a prime example of why it’s so important to over deliver and provide impeccable customer relationship management. If Chef Tanya or the Native Foods staff let this woman leave, they never would have known the influence she may one day (now?) have on this booming vegan business.