PORTAGE PARK — A suburban chicken sandwich restaurant is opening a spot on the Northwest Side this month.
Fry the Coop, which has four suburban locations and a spot in West Town, is taking over the former Gyro Eats at 4300 N. Milwaukee Ave. It offers Nashville hot fried chicken sandwiches, fried chicken and other Southern-inspired items.
Fontana hopes to bring more food options and foot traffic to that strip of Milwaukee Avenue, which has seen a resurgence in business.
“We have had our eyes on Portage and Jefferson Parks,” said owner Joe Fontana, who lives in Villa Park. “I feel like there is a change happening. … There’s this gleaming light, this excitement. They’re not knee-deep in the city, but [they’re] not the suburbs, either.”
Fry the Coop’s most popular item is the Nashville hot chicken sandwich, which is dipped in beef fat. The fries are cooked in beef fat.
The fat gives the chicken its signature reddish color, Fontana said. Then comes the dry rub, a combination of cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic, onion and brown sugar.
“Something about that combo is this addicting flavor, where you go home, lie in bed and you’re thinking about it still,” he previously said. “Depending on how hot you want chicken, we have different dry rubs. Mild, med, hot, crazy and ‘little insanity.’ Each one of those is a different spice blend we came up with.”
Fontana launched the company in 2017 with a spot in Oak Lawn and has steadily expanded. He said he jumped on the chance to take over the former Gyro Eats spot.
With its side patio, takeout window and central location in the neighborhood, the small joint is a good fit for the business, Fontana said. He hopes to be open in a few weeks.
Last year, the chicken company partnered with Logan Square-based Pipeworks Brewing Company, which made a special double IPA brew, Chicken vs. Unicorn.
“It’s a play on their most popular beer, Ninja vs. Unicorn,” Fontana said.
Fry the Coop started when Fontana and his wife lived in California. He was working at a software company, hating his job and not making money, he said. With a background working in Chicago-area bars and restaurants, the Villa Park native tried to open a meatball joint in California, but it fell through.
Then Fontana found out about Nashville hot chicken. The dish became an obsession and reminded him of his Italian grandmother’s cooking, he said.
“My grandma used to cook these breaded chicken cutlets, and we would have fried chicken,” he said. “She would brown the chicken, and the whole room would smell like fried chicken. My friends would always tease me because I would turn everything into a sandwich … so I started making chicken sandwiches.”
That passion turned into a new business idea: Fry the Coop. He pitched the idea and moved back to Villa Park to pursue his plans.
Two years after starting the brand, Fontana opened spots in Elmhurst, Prospect Heights and West Town. In 2020, a Tinley Park location opened. Fontana was named a notable entrepreneur by Crain’s Chicago Business in 2019.
And Fontana’s not done expanding Fry the Coop, he said. The business is opening a Darien store in two or three months, and a Glen Ellyn store is under construction.
“I still feel like we are a new company,” he said. “We feel like a startup. … We are still figuring things out.”
Fontana is also eyeing another spot in Lincoln Park, but details won’t be available for several months or a year, he said.
Updates to the Portage Park location will be shared on the restaurant’s social media.
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