Restaurant Highlight: Fat Rice

Since opening in 2012, Fat Rice has long been a favorite for Chicagoans near Logan Square. Owners Adrienne Lo and Abe Conlon operated the restaurant, bakery, bar and a food hall called Time Out Market until the COVID-19 pandemic led to statewide shutdowns in mid-March. Prohibiting public gatherings hit them hard, just like many other food service establishments around the world. Unlike most other restaurants, though, Fat Rice was equipped to change their business model so that they could focus on reducing the spread of this deadly virus.

Not long after official mandates closed dine-in services across Illinois, Fat Rice closed entirely and converted themselves into Super Fat Rice Mart. They now sell meal kits and groceries, and donate excess to people in need because of pandemic-related financial difficulties.

photo-of-person-holding-chopsticks-3758981

Super Fat Rice Mart

Following total shut down, Lo and Conlon had to find creative solutions to turn a profit without risking the health and safety of their employees or customers. Thus they set out, in their words, to “redefine the idea of a restaurant.”

They sold out during the first weekend of the city-wide shutdown. By getting rid of the meals they had leftover, Fat Rice gained some revenue to tide them through the beginning of the crisis and avoided massive amounts of waste. Whatever ingredients remained went into relief kits that they sent home with their employees and donated to other hospitality industry workers who were laid off or struggling financially because of COVID-19.

Like many restaurants, they considered keeping the same business model and just staying open for takeout and delivery however they quickly rejected that idea. They weren’t equipped or prepared to handle takeout services immediately and also wanted to prioritize safety; their staff has always proudly handled quality control and food safety so they held off on offering pickup services until they had a sanitized, streamlined system. Now, Super Fat Rice Mart offers takeout on Fridays and Saturdays during limited hours.

They dismissed delivery services completely because of the pride and care they put into their service. Some of their food, dumplings for example, don’t travel well and they didn’t want less-than-perfect meals arriving at their customers’ homes; that wouldn’t properly reflect Fat Rice’s dedication and service. Additionally they didn’t outsource to third party platforms because of the high commission that these apps take per order. Third party delivery also has different safety guidelines and precautions which Fat Rice wasn’t prepared or willing to undertake; rather they felt that they could better invest their time and energy into reinventing the business model in a creative way that would benefit them solely and properly capture the essence of the Fat Rice experience.

Thus they became Super Fat Rice Mart. By converting into a market, they could utilize the systems they already had in place and simply turn their current restaurant operations toward a new endeavor, thus serving the community and allowing some of their staff to get back to work, at least part time. They could also maintain the same quality, flavor and delicious meals that has defined them for eight years, preserving their good reputation. Though their business model is different, the Fat Rice experience stays the same.

Now Super Far Rice Mart sells at-home cook kits so customers can freeze ingredients and later prepare delicious Fat Rice dishes for themselves. This recreates the same experience and feel as the restaurant. They sell different size value kits to cater to a variety of consumer needs. Along with these kits, recipes are available for download on their website. Check them out here to find out what to make for dinner tonight.

They also found a great way to continue selling some customer favorites with a reduced inventory and without ingredients going bad: Offering a different popular dish as a special each day. For example, let’s say they can sell one hundred sandwich specials on Wednesdays and one hundred tarts on Sunday. This generates more satisfied customers than if they

ather than only being able to prepare five sandwiches and five tarts every day of the week.

Community Relief Kitchen

In addition to reinventing their own business model for profit and to stay open for their loyal customers, Super Fat Rice Mart developed a plan to support others in need in their community even if they couldn’t pay for their services.

When Chicago first shut down, Fat Rice worked tirelessly for three days to make more than four hundred meals and meal kits those who needed financial support. They used systems and facilities that they already had in place, and which were otherwise going unused, to benefit people affected by the COVID-19 crisis. this also prevented unnecessary food waste by redirecting those resources back to the community.

Super Fat Rice Mart keeps the Community Relief Kitchen working with support from others:

  1. Food distributors can donate packaging and food to the cause, supplementing what Super Fat Rice Mart is already giving.
  2. Anyone can donate money directly. Alternatively, Super Fat Rice Mart has merchandise and gift cards available at their online store. Customers can put between $25 to $500 on these cards, with prices available by intervals of $25.
  3. People in need of support can apply through the Community Relief Kitchen online. There, they’ll receive meals and meal kits in a clean, safe fashion organized specifically to help those disenfranchised by the COVID-19 crisis.

Donations and support will supplement the relief efforts of Super Fat Rice Mart which they plan to continue until it’s completely safe to revert back to Fat Rice. Together, we can help people through this crisis.

Portrait of smiling female staff packing a bread in paper bag at supermarket

Return to Normal?

Currently, Lo and Conlon have no plans to return to “normal” like so many others are hoping and waiting for. Their focus, instead, is on making sure that they’re doing everything possible to function during this crisis without getting distracted by future possibilities. Even if they did reopen dine-in service eventually, they predict that customers will continue feeling unsafe in public environments. Without enough revenue, they won’t be able to pay their bills, expenses and employee salaries so they have no plans to reopen Fat Rice until they’re sure it’s both safe and financially viable to do so.

Thus Super Fat Rice Mart is here to stay serving the community for the time being. As for their goals, the owners are focusing entirely on the new endeavor:  “Right now, we just want to keep the energy of Fat Rice alive. We hope customers appreciate that and continue to support us.”

Editor's Picks