🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now

When Foxtrot and Dom’s grocery stores closed, local vendors were left scrambling

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang May 21, 2024
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
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

When Foxtrot and Dom’s grocery stores closed, local vendors were left scrambling

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang May 21, 2024
Heard on:
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
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Justin Doggett is the owner and one-man operation at Kyoto Black, a subscription and retail-based cold brew coffee company on Chicago’s North Side.

On a recent afternoon, he was filling pouches of cold brew, snapping on a dispenser spout and packing boxes to ship to customers.

Doggett also delivers the cold brew in bottles and kegs to local cafes and grocers, which used to include upscale grocer Foxtrot’s 15 locations in Chicago. 

In late April, he found out over Instagram that the stores were closing — just a day after he had delivered dozens of bottles to one location. To this day, he said he hasn’t heard anything from Foxtrot. 

“The last thing that I heard from Foxtrot was the order placement,” Doggett said. “That was it.”

Doggett is one of hundreds of vendors who were caught off guard when Outfox Hospitality, Foxtrot’s parent company, abruptly shut all 33 Foxtrots in Illinois, Texas and the Washington, D.C., area. Outfox also closed down its two Dom’s Kitchen & Market stores, which merged with Foxtrot last November. Now, small businesses like Doggett’s are scrambling to find new ways to sustain themselves. 

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.

Shipping directly to the consumer is not an option for Simone Freeman; her company, Freeman House Chai, makes fresh drinks that are not shelf stable.

She said about half of her revenue last year was from selling to Foxtrot and Dom’s. For her, the grocers — think Whole Foods, but smaller and chicer — were that sweet spot: It was a chain but stocked local goods, and it was a great place to get the word out about her brand.

“We had tons of different people reach out to us via email or Instagram and say, ‘Oh, I saw you at Foxtrot. I love your products so much. Where else can I find you?’” Freeman said. 

She added that she never expected the fast-expanding chain to shut down overnight. 

“I was absolutely shocked,” Freeman said. “They had a location that they were building in D.C., they had another Dom’s that they’re building, they just had this merger.” 

Some say the company, backed by venture capital, grew too quickly and unsustainably, and ran into financial troubles. Outfox filed for bankruptcy on May 14, and there are already rumblings about a comeback. The company did not respond to an interview request. 

Freeman said she does not expect to get back the couple thousand dollars the grocer owes her. 

And Yuta Katsuyama — owner of Onigiri Kororin, which sells Japanese rice balls filled with salmon or tuna wrapped in seaweed — isn’t holding his breath either. He said he invoiced the stores for about $13,000 before they shut down — about a week’s worth of revenue.

“I don’t think we’re gonna get that payment,” Katsuyama said.

He had sold his onigiri at Dom’s first and had just started selling at Foxtrot last month.

“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. Katsuyama and his partner are now looking for other business opportunities, including with Chicago-area college campuses. 

As lawsuits from laid-off workers and suppliers proceed against Outfox Hospitality, many vendors said they were buoyed by the support from the food and beverage community. In Chicago, 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.

“I get messages saying like so and so said, ‘Hey, if you want to sell here, you can and spread this to vendors,’ so that has been a great support network,” Doggett said. “There’ve been people taking initiatives on Instagram to just get a list of affected companies together.”

He added that the food and beverage industry is volatile, but when shake-ups happen, the community shows up for one another.  

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.