Nick Kokonas is leaving Tock, the company he helped create eight years ago. Kokonas launched the portal to help upscale restaurants, like Alinea — the tasting-menu pioneer he launched with chef Grant Achatz — to better manage reservations.
Kokonas — a former trader with colorful social media takes that often trigger strong opinions within Chicago’s restaurant industry — is known for co-founding Alinea and its sibling venues, Next, Roister, and the Aviary. He will formally leave Tock on January 2. That’s almost two years after Squarespace purchased the reservation platform in March 2021 for a reported $400 million. While Kokonas departs as chief executive officer, Tock has appointed Matthew Tucker as senior vice president, head of Tock, effectively replacing Kokonas, according to a news release. Tucker retired in January from his roles as president and chief operating officer of Olo, an online ordering platform. He had been with Olo since 2013.
Squarespace, known for building websites, has increased Tock’s labor force since last year and has begun to leave its mark. Tock moved into a Fulton Market office space (conveniently located near Randolph Street and dozens of potential restaurant clients). Additionally, earlier this month, Tock launched a wine shop where wineries could bypass traditional retail means to sell to Tock’s customers.
When Kokonas and former Google engineer Brian Fitzpatrick launched Tock (Fitzpatrick left the company in May), it was unheard of for diners to prepay for meals. Kokonas was looking for a way to reduce no-shows. Tock evolved as a product that would introduce dynamic pricing (where restaurants could charge more on Friday versus a Tuesday) and eliminate tipping in some restaurants.
Alinea — which, Kokonas insists via email, has been “a paying client of Tock’s since day one” — became a case study that Tock brass could show other restaurants across the country, enticing them to sign up, luring them away from online reservations giant OpenTable. Kokonas called OpenTable an antiquated platform, criticizing a lack of features; until recently, restaurants couldn’t add special events, like pop-ups or seating options. Tock eventually became a hub for diners looking for tasting menus and elite dining experiences with clients like the French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park joining from coast to coast.
At the start of the pandemic, when government orders suspended indoor dining in March 2020, Tock transitioned to carryout, giving fancy restaurants like Alinea a platform to sell takeaway, something many pedigreed chefs would not have considered. In the process, Tock expanded its client base as other restaurants from different price points joined at least temporarily. Many were contractually bound to OpenTable and Resy for indoor dining reservations. Still, Wrigleyville dive bar Nisei Lounge was even briefly listed, demonstrating the diverse clientele Tock began to amass.
During that panicked spring of 2020, Tock charged restaurants 3 percent per takeout order on its platform. That represented a reduction compared to DoorDash and Grubhub, sources of frustration for restaurants that charged as much as 15 percent. That impressed the city of Chicago, which partnered with Tock in April to offer a free trial subscriptions to restaurants in low-income communities.
So what’s next for Kokonas?
“No idea,” he writes. “I’ve been working on this in one form or another since 2010 and thinking about it constantly. So it’ll be interesting….”