Chicago-based fast casual seafood chain Brown Bag Seafood Co. will surge ahead with growth in 2022, announcing plans to open four locations, including its first restaurants in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 10-unit concept, known for its quick, fresh and sustainably sourced seafood, will also continue to expand in Chicagoland and Atlanta.
“There’s no doubt the last year and a half has presented our entire industry with a whole slate of new challenges,” says founder and CEO Donna Lee, “but we’ve used the time to strengthen our operations, invest in our people, sharpen the entire guest experience. We are more poised than ever to become the national leader in our category.”
In Charlotte, Brown Bag will enter the market with quite a splash, inking deals at the brand-new, state-of-the-art Lowe’s Global Technology Center in South End and along Tryon Street at the buzzy, newly developed Ally Charlotte Center in Uptown. Both projects, at 2,542 and 2,756 square feet, respectively, will offer plenty of in-store and patio seating, as well as take-out, pickup and delivery. Both are projected to open in mid-2022.
“Having seen the success we’ve had in Atlanta, we’re thrilled to be continuing our expansion in the Southeast,” adds Zach Flanzman, Brown Bag’s president and chief operating officer. “Charlotte is a vibrant, growing city, and we think we can really add something new and unique to its great food scene and culture.”
Meanwhile, Brown Bag will open its third Atlanta restaurant at the much-anticipated mixed-use redevelopment, Ashford Lane, in Central Perimeter. With existing locations at well-known hubs Colony Square in Midtown and Westside Provisions District in West Midtown, Brown Bag will widen its reach with its first OTP location. At 1,576 square feet, the site will include limited in- store seating as well as an approximately 800 square foot patio when it opens in late spring next year.
“We love the vision at Ashford Lane and are excited to be a part of its reimagination,” says Lee. “It’s a fantastic way to bring our brand to the Perimeter market. We’ve been fortunate to be a part of several transformative projects, and they’re always special.”
Closer to home, Brown Bag will also debut its first suburban Chicagoland location at The Shoppes on Washington, a thriving, mixed-use center in Naperville. Projected to open midyear 2022, the 2,590 square foot restaurant is expected to seat roughly 40 inside, with plenty more space on its outdoor patio.
“We couldn’t be happier with this site as a way to introduce ourselves to a whole new customer base,” says Flanzman. “While we have great brand awareness in Naperville from our downtown locations, we think this location will really demonstrate the versatility of the concept and open up a whole new avenue of growth for our brand.”
In addition to the four named locations, Brown Bag has additional openings planned for 2022.
At Brown Bag, guests fill out laminated menu cards to customize their meals as they order at the counter. Customers are encouraged to first select from a wide variety of responsibly sourced seafood, such as grilled salmon, shrimp, or its rotating daily catch, and then choose one of the concept’s creative “builds,” including tacos, salads, sandwiches and grain and veggie bowls (known as its “Powerbox,” “Veggiebox,” and “Greens & Grains”). The menu also features specials like the Lobster Roll with Truffle Parmesan Tots and Fish & Chips, alongside made- from-scratch New England clam chowder and an array of housemade sides, slaws, veggies and sauces. For the less seafood-inclined, chicken, vegetarian and vegan options are also available, along with plenty of gluten-free, dairy-free and other allergen-friendly choices. Restaurants are open for lunch and dinner.
Brown Bag partners with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, committing to serving only sustainably sourced seafood. The chain further prioritizes environmental responsibility by striving to be a zero-waste restaurant, using fully compostable packaging, and recycling its used oil into biodiesel fuel. Additionally, the brand prides itself on forming local partnerships with nonprofits, schools, and other charitable organizations in the communities it serves.
Lee founded the concept in 2014 after experiencing that, as a pescatarian at the time, she could not find any restaurant offering affordable, quick and healthy seafood. Her idea to bring seafood to the masses in a fast casual format quickly took off, adding outposts across the Loop and in neighborhoods including River North, Lincoln Park and Roscoe Village in Chicago, before expanding to Atlanta in 2020. While each restaurant showcases unique, locally curated touches, all share a coastal-inspired design, with features like maritime rope, handcrafted wooden finishes, and its signature brown paper daily specials board.