From being a Top Chef fan favorite to a game-changing name in food and hospitality, Chef Fabio Viviani has done it all. After launching successful restaurants across the country and writing bestselling cookbooks, he’s now moved onto another expansive space in the food world: desserts.
His newest venture, JARS, is a fast-casual dessert brand featuring an array of treats served in eye-catching, reusable, individual jars. The first location is opening in Chicago, with plans to franchise in major markets across the US this year. Diners can expect photo-worthy, Instagrammable jars with flavors inspired by Viviani’s world travels – think Baked Alaska, shaved Italian ice, Swiss Chocolate Roll, Rice Krispies Treats, funnel cake and peach cobbler.
We sat down with the chef (virtually) to get his take on opening a business during the pandemic, where he gets his inspiration and what would his last-meal dessert be?
Can you tell us the origin story of JARS?
It’s actually really simple. There was a delivery order with a slice of cake. Though we placed it in our to-go container with care, we knew it would never arrive at its destination with the same presentation. Invariably, packaging shifts in transit and soon all that icing decoration gets smushed. We were talking about options to preserve the presentation and taste of our desserts and then we realized the solution. It wasn’t the dessert – it was the container! Thus, JARS was born.
Also, we know people love dessert. There’s nothing like a decadent piece of chocolate at the end of a long day or soft-serve ice cream under the hot sun. As a chef and restaurateur, I wanted to create a concept with delicious desserts that appealed to each individual’s taste, while simultaneously addressing the needs of franchisees and restaurant operators with a low cost business model.
How do you think social media has influenced the dessert industry?
[It] has allowed people to experience all kinds of food with simple swipes, clicks and taps. When I come across a mouth-watering, delicious-looking dessert on my Instagram feed, I immediately find myself craving that item and wondering where I can try it. Through social platforms such as Instagram, dessert brands like JARS are able to interact with customers beyond the communities in which they reside and showcase their menu items in an innovative, aesthetically-pleasing manner. We have designed JARS to be photographed before you eat them, though of course they’re as delicious as they look.
Where do you find your flavor inspiration?
My travels have been one of my greatest inspirations when identifying classic yet trendy and fresh dessert items.
How has your upbringing influenced your cooking style and taste?
I discovered my passion for food as a young child growing up in Florence, Italy. I started working in the restaurant business, baking pies at a local bakery in my hometown. As I grew older, I began training in Italian and Mediterranean cuisines at top hospitality schools under the instruction of culinary legends such as Alessandro Panzani and Saverio Carmagnini. The superb training and mentorship that I received, combined with my interest in business and entrepreneurship, inspired me to launch a handful of original restaurant concepts in Florence. Building on this momentum, I began opening various restaurants across the United States and developed Fabio Viviani Hospitality Group. My extensive experience has had a significant impact on my cooking style and how I’m able to engrain my favorite flavors and business ideas into countless communities across the globe.
What have you learned from launching a new business during the pandemic?
The restaurant industry took a massive hit. In March 2020, there was no definitive direction as to where restaurants would stand the following week, month or year. In reflecting on my experience through that difficult time, I’ve learned that there is no moment like the present for new and established independent restaurants and franchises to find fresh outlets to grow their concepts and expand their offerings. I see lots of opportunities on the horizon for emerging brands like JARS to make themselves a unique presence in physical communities and within the digital space moving forward into the post-pandemic environment.
How will JARS be different?
Unlike current dessert franchise concepts, JARS requires minimal labor and staff training while providing high-profit margins at a low entry cost. There is no need for a full kitchen buildout or executive chef, and the hoodless/ventless kitchen design provides exceptional ROI for conversion opportunities. We’ve strategically designed JARS as the next app-driven, interactive experience to embrace automation. The menu allows for in-store, takeout and off-premise ordering options to meet customers’ needs through omni-channel sales opportunities.
What’s in your fridge currently?
If you were to take a peek inside you would find a variety of fruits, vegetables, condiments, proteins and leftovers from when I get crafty in the kitchen. Food has always been my creative outlet and I love taking what is in my fridge and making a meal that I can share with my family at the end of the day.
What’s your last-meal dessert?
I have the biggest sweet tooth; therefore, it is impossible for me to pick a favorite. Anything chocolate always hits the spot. I’m also a fan of decadent cakes, cobblers and pies. The list goes on!
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