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Justin Doggett, owner of cold brew company Kyoto Black, fills a pouch with coffee. Doggett is one of dozens of local vendors affected by the closings of Foxtrot and Dom’s stores in late April.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang

After Foxtrot and Dom’s closings, Chicago-area vendors seek new places to sell

Justin Doggett owns and single-handedly runs Kyoto Black, a cold brew coffee company. He has spent the last nine years carefully building up his Edgewater-based business. But in an instant in late April, he checked his Instagram feed and found everything had changed.

He learned Outfox Hospitality, the parent company of upscale grocers Foxtrot and Dom’s Kitchen & Market, was shutting down all 33 of its stores in Illinois, Texas and the D.C. area.

“The first thing I did was kind of laugh because I was just like, ‘This is hard to believe,’ as I thought that it would be a stable partner because they had so many locations,” Doggett said.

Since 2021, he had come to depend on the business Foxtrot gave Kyoto Black — not just for the sales but also the name recognition.

“It was a great place for people to discover my brand,” he said. “So that’s gone, the footprint is gone and obviously the revenue is gone.”

Along with hundreds of workers who got virtually no notice about their layoffs, Doggett is one of many dozens of Chicago-area vendors who were caught off guard by the Foxtrot and Dom’s closings. In the days after the initial shock, these small business owners have been scrambling to find new and creative ways to sustain their businesses.

For Doggett, that meant putting out a distress call over social media on April 24, the day after the closings. He asked his Facebook friends to subscribe to his monthly cold brew, noting that he needs more than 800 new customers to replace the lost Foxtrot revenue.

“I originally started as an online-first brand, direct to consumer, so I’ve been pushing that mostly to plug the gap,” Doggett said.

Last week, Doggett was at his storefront on Devon Avenue, filling pouches full of cold brew, snapping on dispenser spouts and packing boxes to ship to his subscribers. He said he was glad the Foxtrot closings happened before the summer season — when cold brew orders from all 15 of its Chicago stores would have potentially meant thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices.

That’s what happened to Yuta Katsuyama. The owner of Onigiri Kororin is out about $13,000 in unpaid bills from both Foxtrot and Dom’s.

Katsuyama had sold fresh onigiri — Japanese rice balls filled with cooked fish or tofu wrapped in seaweed — at Dom’s since 2022. He had recently inked a deal with Foxtrot and just began selling onigiri there in April.

“We were about to expand our team and equipment [to] meet their demand,” Katsuyama said, adding that the additional business would have meant a 30% increase in revenue.

Those expansion plans are now on hold, and Katsuyama and his partner are looking for other business opportunities, including with Chicago-area college campuses.

“We try to think positively,” he said. “We lost some money, but the [Dom’s and Foxtrot teams] were actually super helpful to scale up our business. We learned a lot from them.”

Foxtrot and Dom’s merged last year. Company officials touted the smaller store footprints, convenience and in-store dining. Outfox Hospitality did not respond to questions from WBEZ.

At Carolyn’s Krisps, a vegan and gluten-free cookie-cracker company, owner Amie Kesler has not only lost thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices, but also in inventory. She said her products are still sitting on the shelves of shuttered stores, and they will cut into the 25% in revenue she made from the two grocers.

“As a small business, cashflow is everything,” Kesler said. “I’m so grateful for anyone who has ordered on our website. We’re also looking at hotels and food service and just different avenues so that we’re not so dependent on a retailer like this.”

For Simone Freeman, whose Freeman House Chai company sells fresh chai to grocers, restaurants and cafes, the Foxtrot and Dom’s accounts accounted for about half of her company’s revenue last year.

Freeman said the grocers represented a sweet spot for vendors: It was a chain but stocked local goods, and the stores were located in high-traffic parts of the city. Even actress Beanie Feldstein reached out to ask if the bottles of her Chai Baby — a sweet, nondairy drink — were available in New York, Freeman said

Freeman said the company may have to take out a loan but is currently working to find new revenue streams.

“We’re really hustling to get into new locations, and we’re hustling on collaborations with different companies,” she said.

As lawsuits from laid-off workers and suppliers proceed against Outfox Hospitality, Freeman said she is buoyed by the support from Chicago’s food and beverage community. Local businesses have hosted pop-ups, and some retailers have covered the costs of discounts on items from vendors affected by the Foxtrot and Dom’s closures.

“Everyone has each other’s backs,” Freeman said. “There’s new businesses that say, ‘Hey, Foxtrot vendors, come sell here.’ There are people promoting these individual brands or going out and buying. Everyone’s really doing their part.”

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on X @estheryjkang.

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