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un·cooked chicago Launched During COVID — and Location #2 is Already Here
un·cooked chicago's mission is to make healthy, sustainable food accessible to all through great prices and a digital-friendly, grab-and-go setup.
Jeremy Jones has a simple idea: health and wellness should not require a barrier to entry. Across the country, finding food that fits the trifecta of sustainably sourced, healthy, and delicious often comes with a prohibitive price tag. Jones, the Chief Vision Officer and co-founder of Chicago’s un·cooked, has been working for the last 13 years to find a way to change this.
In the wake of losing his father to cancer, Jones and his mother Carole set themselves upon life-changing paths to answer a fundamental question: how can we better understand how and why people get sick? For Carole, this pursuit led her to explore plant-based diets and their role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle – she would later found Chicago Raw in 2009. Jones, meanwhile, explored the training and fitness industry, where he would meet his now wife, Kaitlyn.
In late 2019, the trio was bringing a new idea to life. Between Carole’s unmatched culinary instincts, Kaitlyn’s passion for the welfare of animals and the planet, and Jeremy’s entrepreneurial acumen, there was a clear opportunity to change people’s relationship with healthy eating.
“The issue is really one of perception,” explains Jones. “In my experience, the tradeoff is a staggering price point, especially here in the Midwest. We wanted to transform what a sustainable, reasonably priced, and accessible restaurant can look like.”
The result was un·cooked, a grab-and-go plant-based restaurant located in Chicago’s bustling West Loop. The mission not only included environmentally friendly business practices and policies, but changing the narrative around sustainable accessibility and serving as an example within their communities.
“There’s two aspects to it,” says Jones. “First, in today’s world, people are more aware about the food that they eat and how it impacts their bodies. We have a responsibility to draw a direct line to our consumption habits and how it coincides with being better stewards of our environment. Second, there’s the social side. People who look like me and come from places like I do should not be priced out of making these choices that matter. The world is ready for anyone who wants to show up.”
People who look like me and come from places like I do should not be priced out of making these choices that matter. The world is ready for anyone who wants to show up.
The Power of Great Food and Great Data
Armed with the mission and the purpose, un·cooked finally opened its doors – weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the country into lockdown.
They planned to cater to the office lunch crowd, but COVID threw a wrench in that plan. “We were caught by surprise, as was everyone,” recounts Jones.
But their focus on incorporating technology to enable hospitality was their saving grace. “From the get-go, we had done our research and anticipated that the quick service restaurant industry was heading towards the remote, digital experience anyway," said Jones. "So while the infrastructure was there, COVID ended up being the ultimate stress-test for our systems. Toast’s ability to integrate really made a difference as we adapted.”
A Toast customer since early 2020, un·cooked leverages Toast POS systems to seamlessly aggregate data and generate critical forecasting and reporting – key elements of their digital strategy today.
“It’s rare to see a system that is business model agnostic,” says Jones. “Through Toast, there’s no silo of data across our partner ecosystem, so we have the clearest understanding of how we’re operating.”
“Take staffing and scheduling for example,” he says. “During COVID it’s hard to predict when we’re going to be busy, but Toast’s robust reporting system provides a much better picture. We’re able to be much more efficient with our resources because the usual Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday rush is now regulated to Wednesday, Thursday. With Toast, we don’t have to compromise on sustainability because we can allocate just the right resources, exactly when we need them.”
Jones also loves to learn about customer behavior as a way for un·cooked to achieve its mission. "We keep a really close eye on what people are purchasing, when they're purchasing it, and who's purchasing it." It helps them predict how much food to buy and prepare, but Jones is also interested in making sure their space is appealing to all types of people. "We want to invite a lot of people to the conversation — we look at who eats our food, and we want a diverse patron base. And if there is a gap, if anybody is left out, we would try to figure out why that is and get better at communicating. So people feel comfortable coming into our space."
"We’re trying to remove barriers between the patron and a conscientious, healthy, delicious choice. Expanding just seems like the next step."
un·cooked is available for grab-and-go takeout, and on third-party delivery platforms as well as an in-house system. To save on the high commission fees charged by third-party delivery companies, Jones shared that he's working to educate his customers on why ordering directly is better for the restaurant. "We have little print out business cards that we're putting in all third party app orders," he shared.
un·cooked has only ever existed during COVID, but they’ve experienced massive success. It shows that their concept and the tech investments they made have created an experience that his customers were sorely missing.
From West Loop to Bucktown, in One Year
Their success has allowed Jones and his team to expand into a second location within less than a year. It opened in early January of 2021, in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. “We’re moving into a more of a neighborhood feel,” explained Jeremy. “We’re trying to get inventive with some lease options and some different structures so we can test markets.”
He and his team are hedging their bets on the fact that when we emerge from COVID, consumers will be excited to eat healthy. "We're just trying to be be there when that wave is ready, and offer the best, healthiest food in an environment that's also conscious and zero-waste," he adding, sharing that he's also seeing the public wanting to protect the environment.
For un·cooked, their same goal remains: “We’re trying to remove barriers between the patron and a conscientious, healthy, delicious choice,” explained Jeremy. “Expanding just seems like the next step.”