A Befuddling Lack of Comms on Store Closures

Thom Weidlich 05.02.24


Six months ago, a popular chain of upscale convenience stores and a popular chain of upscale grocery stores said they would merge. Last week, they both abruptly shuttered all their locations. People were dismayed, and the curt communications bewildered. Even with the company closing, there are reputational issues.

In November 2023, Chicago-based Foxtrot, with 33 convenience stores in Chicago, Dallas and the Washington, D.C., area, merged with Dom’s Kitchen & Market, with two Chi-town groceries. The combined company is — was — called Outfox Hospitality. Recently, data-analytics firm Placer.ai named Foxtrot one of the top 10 brands to watch in 2024. Oops. On Tuesday, April 23, the companies made their surprising announcement and ceased operations that same day.

There’s been little communication. Outfox put out a statement on Instagram. “We explored many avenues to continue the business but found no viable option despite good faith and exhaustive efforts,” it said. “We understand that this news may come as a shock, and we apologize for any inconvenience it may cause.” No one up top seems to be talking to the press.

Important Stakeholders

The lack of communication is disappointing because the company has — had — important stakeholders: customers, employees, neighbors, vendors, investors.

Employees were told at an all-hand’s meeting on doomsday, April 23, according to ModernRetail (“What Went Wrong at Foxtrot”). Two employees posted a TikTok starting at 10:14 a.m. saying the store, with customers sitting around tables, would close for good at noon. The lack of advance warning led to the filing of a class-action lawsuit the next day alleging violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. That Friday, a group of former employees rallied outside a Chicago location.

The vendors are interesting because Foxtrot had a reputation for offering products from small and local producers — it had a program called “Up and Comers.” It was something that made it different. It was part of its brand. Forbes quoted several suppliers who were stunned at the development.

As for investors, Foxtrot had $194 million in financing, including from private-equity firms and celebrity chef David Chang, according to Forbes (we’re sure there are one-on-one conversations happening there).

Moving Forward

You might ask what does it matter if the company no longer exists? Well, the people who founded and ran it and its two halves should worry about their reputations moving forward. This doesn’t look good.

And some of the names are big. Foxtrot co-founder Mike LaVitola is Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Dom’s Kitchen co-founder Bob Mariano had been CEO of Milwaukee-based supermarket chain Roundy’s, and co-founded Mariano’s grocery stores. Weirdly, it was just in March that Outfox brought on Whole Foods veteran Rob Twyman as new CEO. His head must be spinning.

It’s hard to say what went wrong at Outfox. Foxtrot, at least, may have tried to grow too fast. ModernRetail speculated that the chain struggled to define its identity. “They were trying to be so many different things, and please everybody [versus] saying this is what we are,” it quoted one former employee.

Photo Credit: Foxtrot

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