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Emerging Brands

Take a first look inside the new Bayless-Jollibee fast-casual concept

Tortazo, which sells Mexican sandwiches, bowls, salads and churros, features a full bar and has plans to grow.
Photograph courtesy of Tortazo

Building on the success of his airport concept, restaurateur Rick Bayless debuted a new fast-casual brand in Chicago on Wednesday, one he hopes to grow through his partnership with Jollibee Foods Corp.

Tortazo, which features many of the same menu items found at Bayless’ three Tortas Frontera units at O’Hare International Airport, opened in the newly revamped food hall at Willis Tower. In the coming years, Bayless said he plans to open several more Tortazo locations in Chicago and New York City.

“Think of this as Tortas 2.0,” Bayless said at a preopening media event Tuesday evening. “We wanted to grow it outside of the airport. There’s a lot of similarities between these two concepts. … But, most importantly, we have churros. We decided that would be the icing on this cake.”

The brightly colored, open-kitchen space features a full bar with a menu of margaritas, mezcal cocktails and more curated by Bayless’ daughter, Lanie Bayless, who runs the spirits program across the Frontera concepts. In addition to luring tourists wanting some liquid courage before visiting the 103rd story Willis Tower Skydeck, the team behind Tortazo hopes the bar will be a happy hour destination for nearby office workers.

The Willis Tower location seats 77 people and has a designated pickup area for online orders.

Tortazo’s menu of Mexican sandwiches called tortas borrows heavily from that of Tortas Frontera. But Tortazo’s offerings extend to bowls, such as Chicken Chilaquiles and Short Rib & Poblano Rajas, as well as salads and seasonal soups to broaden the options. For kids, there’s a crispy chicken or grilled cheese sandwich. And, of course, there are both whole churros and churro bites for dessert. The treats are a popular add-on at Xoco, another Bayless restaurant that specializes in tortas.

Tortazo is part of Catalog at Willis Tower, a new 300,000-square-foot retail, dining and entertainment space at the base of the skyscraper. Other restaurant tenants include Shake Shack, Sweetgreen and Brown Bag Seafood.

“We’re happy with our neighbors,” Bayless said. “We like all the people around us here. We’re proud to be a part of this.”

Philippines-based fast food company Jollibee invested $12.4 million in Tortas Frontera in 2018, giving it 47% control of the company. The move was part of Jollibee’s ongoing expansion into the U.S. restaurant space, which includes a majority stake in fast-casual burger chain Smashburger as well as coffee chain The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

 

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