Northbrook Court shopping center is capitalizing on the growing consumer appetite for pop-up restaurants with its latest food installment: the FOMO Café, located on the mall’s second level near the entrance to Macy’s.
The FOMO Café will house rotating restaurants throughout the week; so while the café’s tables, chairs, and kitchen equipment are permanent, the chef, staff and menu will change every few days.
This month at the FOMO Café, Toasty Cheese, Toasty Taco and Best Truckin’ BBQ will rotate with Ms. Tittles Cupcakes, Da’ Lobster, Gotta B Crepes, and The Blind Faith Café, a concept requiring advance tickets in which diners eat in the dark.
As Northbrook Court’s construction staff put finishing touches on the restaurant interior, Toasty Cheese Restaurant Group owner Greg Barnhart – one of the first tenants to occupy the space when it opened on October 5 – surveyed their progress.
Barnhart’s three food concepts, Toasty Cheese, Toasty Taco, and Best Truckin’ BBQ, are already available in traveling food trucks. Over the past 5 years, they’ve become a familiar sight at street parties and festivals around Chicagoland, including every Wednesday at Highwood’s Gourmet Market. Barnhart’s food trucks have a loyal following, including the 14,000 Facebook fans who follow their movements on social media.
“Northbrook Court reached out to some of the local food trucks about their FOMO concept, and I thought it was a great fit for us,” said Barnhart. “We do a lot of catering, and this type of exposure will help people understand that we can prepare and serve our food without the trucks.”
FOMO is the acronym for “fear of missing out,” a popular term used to describe anxiety when an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere. Barnhart said Northbrook Court plans to operate the FOMO Café until February 2018, at which time the management will evaluate its success.
Barnhart launched his first food truck concept, Toasty Cheese, in 2012 after years of traveling 5-6 days a week as a consultant for the auto industry. Knowing how much his three children loved his grilled cheese sandwiches, Barnhart decided to launch a business that would keep him closer to home. After rolling out Toasty Cheese to positive feedback, he launched Toasty Taco and Best Truckin’ BBQ shortly thereafter.
With Toasty Cheese, a classic American comfort food has been elevated to gourmet heights. Made on artisan Panini bread and cooked in a butter blended with what Barnhart calls “a few key ingredients,” Toasty Cheese sandwiches range from the “Kim Classic,” priced at $6.50, featuring the standard American or Cheddar cheese, all the way to the $9.50 “Chef’s Choice,” layered with duck bacon, Provolone, fresh spinach and fresh baby arugula with Sicilian cherry tomatoes and aioli.
“Our special Panini bread browns nicely in the butter and holds up to any protein,” said Barnhart.
The “Mighty Max,” which sells for $9.75, features grass-fed rib eye beef, Mozzarella, red onion and garlic butter on a pretzel roll, sits alongside a full menu of fresh cut fries, including Greek Fries made with oregano, garlic, rosemary-infused olive oil, lemon and feta, and Sweet Potato fries, topped with Toasty Cheese’s own Wildfire Honey. Barnhart, who also creates seasonal grilled cheese sandwiches that change throughout the year, hopes to get a liquor license at the FOMO Café to sell beer and wine.
For dessert, customers can choose from “The Hannah Banana,” a sweet concoction of deep fried Nutella, banana purée and Marshmallow Fluff on Panini, or “Lucky Luis Bites,”
Fluffy, cinnamon sugar-dusted fried pastries, served with either chocolate, raspberry or caramel dipping sauce.
Once a year, Barnhart holds a contest and invites customers to submit new sandwich ideas. The top 10 entries are posted on on Facebook, with the winning concept added to the menu for 6 months. The winning sandwich, “Scott’s South of the Border,” featuring Chipotle chicken, cilantro-avocado aioli, Pepper Jack cheese, caramelized poblano peppers and caramelized onions, was so popular, it’s become a permanent fixture on the Toasty Cheese menu.
“People love grilled cheese…it’s comfort food,” said Barnhart. “It usually brings back memories of when they were kids.”
Barnhart, a resident of Roselle, has one brick and mortar location in Schaumberg, where he keeps his trucks and food commissary. He said food trucks and pop-up locations allow restaurateurs to be nimble and adaptive in a world of ever-changing culinary trends.
“Consumers are looking for food that’s fresh, and not necessarily the norm,” said Barnhart. They’re tired of corporate food. They’ve revolted against boring.”
For a complete schedule of rotating restaurants at the FOMO Café in Northbrook Court, visit www.northbrookcourt.com.