If you’ve wandered around almost any of Chicago’s major business districts in the past few years, you’ve surely seen one name pop up over and over: Foxtrot.

The upscale food market concept went from an online delivery service with a single physical location to seven Chicago outposts (plus two in Dallas) in just five years, with more stores and millions of dollars in new investments on the way in 2020. How did it expand so quickly?

The story starts in 2015, when founder Mike LaVitola was a student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“I saw all sorts of interesting delivery businesses popping up: meals, groceries, liquor,” LaVitola says. But he noticed that one sector didn’t seem to be changing at all to meet the times: convenience stores.

“These stores weren’t fun places to spend time, they had a bad mix of products, and none of it was online,” he says.

Foxtrot sprung from that single revelation. Originally, it was meant to be an online delivery service to bring people high-quality versions of typical convenience store fare — ice cream, wine, beer, pizza, and snacks. Since Illinois law makes it difficult to deliver liquor from a warehouse, LaVitola opened a single small retail location to facilitate orders, not realizing that the location would take off.

“We thought, ‘Let’s open up a cheap, out-of-the-way little spot in the West Loop.’ It was designed to act more like our warehouse,” LaVitola says. “But the West Loop is neither cheap nor out of the way anymore, and people kept coming in.”

Photo: Courtesy of Foxtrot

It became clear that people wanted to visit and purchase convenience items at physical stores. Foxtrot joins the growing number of online brands that went on to launch brick and mortar stores, rather than the other way around.

“People want to touch and feel products and talk to experts,” LaVitola says.

They added a coffee bar to the West Loop location, which became a key part of future shops. The locations also helped to promote the delivery brand (according to internal data, neighborhoods with a Foxtrot are also the busiest delivery neighborhoods), and everything kept growing. These days, Foxtrot offers lots of different products, including prepared foods, quick meals, and items from local partners like Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits and Aya Pastry.

Foxtrot isn’t a full grocery store, and a big challenge has been finding the exact mix of items people need on short notice, or that they’re eager to discover. In the summer, steaks to grill after work are a huge seller, even though Foxtrot doesn’t have a full line of meats. Baguettes are one of their top products, even without a full bakery. Instead of produce, Foxtrot stocks just apples, bananas, and oranges. Foxtrot also offers a membership perks program: Spend $100 a month and get free coffee, free delivery, and happy hour drink prices all the time.

The next Foxtrot location is coming to Streeterville this spring. Despite Foxtrot’s wide range of items and the careful curation, the original products that drove the brand in 2015 are still its best sellers, and they match exactly what most of us want for a cozy night in: wine and ice cream.

“We can’t stock enough ice cream,” LaVitola laughs. “In the dead of winter, people want ice cream delivered. It’s astonishing.”

Foxtrot includes seven locations. Visit foxtrotco.com for more details.