Daniel Briceno, co-founder of Chicago-based Fons, the world’s first vegan empanada store, talks the eatery’s launch and its global inspirations.
The Lincoln Park neighbourhood of Chicago will soon have the world’s first all-vegan empanada shop this spring. Fons, created by husband-and-wife duo Daniel Briceno and Daniela Crespo, will offer 12 vibrant flavours of empanada, each one representing a different culture from around the world.
Fons will serve empanadas that are five inches in diameter, with flavours such as tinga, lumpia, ropa vieja, and Margherita (with vegan mozzarella created by Briceno). They will be available individually or as build-your-own ‘Fonspacks’ of six, 12, 24 or 36. Fons will also offer house-made dipping sauces and an array of drinks including matcha tea and coffee.
Briceno and Crespo initially launched Fons as an e-commerce retailer in 2020, where consumers were able to order the empanadas to their home. They are currently in the process of expanding nationwide shipping to all states.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.
What gave you the idea to start a vegan empanada brand?
We have been working on our product since December 2019. We love empanadas because they are convenient, delicious, easy to eat, and full of flavour. We decided to go plant-based because we want to make people aware that the flavours and textures we used to eat can be achieved from natural sources, as well as be healthier and Earth-friendly.
What brought you both to Chicago?
We came here to visit a good friend from high school and we just loved the city. Chicago has great vibes and nice people that we are so thankful for.
How did you come up with the name?
‘Fons’ means ‘origin’ in Latin, and that is what Fons is. Plants are the origin of nutrients, and empanadas are in every single country in different presentations that bring us back to our origin and roots.
You worked at jajaja in New York City. What did you take away from that experience?
I took to chef Ricky’s passion for plant-based cuisine. He was a great inspiration for me to get deeper into textures and flavours from natural plant sources.
Read New Yorkers’ experiences of living in America’s most-vegan friendly city.
How is the transition going from e-commerce to opening up a restaurant?
It is going really well. We are building out our cosy grab-and-go store to welcome our guests and get their warm Fons made with 100% love.
Is there a country that inspires you the most?
We are originally from Venezuela, specifically from a small town called Merida in the southwest of the country. There, we do have a type of empanada that is filled with a bunch of flavours.
We took the inspiration from there and reinvented what we used to eat for most of the breakfasts and lunches in a colourful and plant-based presentation.
Because of the theme of empanadas representing different cultures and countries, is the style of your restaurant going to have the same essence?
Our essence is to bring a joyful and healthy experience to our people. The diversity comes to the palate and the colours will be represented on our store. Life is in colours, and so Fons is too.
For people who won’t be able to travel to Chicago, will you still be selling your empanadas online?
We will keep our website orders open for those who cannot travel to Chicago or those who still want to get the bake-at-home Fonspacks. We will also expand our nationwide shipping to the entire States soon.
Can we expect any new flavours of empanadas in the future?
We are working on so many different flavours to be added to our menu, playing with textures, new cheeses and sauces. We would also love to get flavour requests from readers on Instagram.
Fons will debut in late February or early March at 2566 N. Clark Street, Lincoln Park.