Flash back to February at our team bonding event at Little Cleo’s. We were listening to the manager talk about the history of the restaurant when someone asked if Little Cleo’s had any other locations. The manager shook his head no and said that Little Cleo’s is one of the little gems of Fox Restaurant Concepts. Sam Fox wanted one amazing seafood restaurant and that’s exactly what he got. One of our interns chimed in asking what some of the other Fox Restaurants are and someone replied with, “Anything that looks cute and tastes good.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect way to sum up Fox Restaurant Concepts and why Sam Fox is a complete & utter genius at what he does.
In case you don’t already know, Fox Restaurant Concepts was created by Sam Fox back in 1998. Since then, they have created 15 concepts and over 50 locations. Each concept is entirely different and comes with food, employees, and an atmosphere that perfectly aligns with its brand personality. Still don’t know what we’re talking about? Here are some restaurants to jog your memory: Culinary Dropout, Flower Child, Blanco, The Arrogant Butcher, Zinburger…you get the idea.
We had the privilege of interviewing Sam Fox to see exactly how his great mind works. Take a peek below to learn more about how Fox Restaurant Concepts came to be!
How would you describe FRC? What is it mission and story?
We are a group of multi-faceted restaurants with a handful of one-off locations like The Henry and Little Cleo’s as well as brands like North Italia and True Food Kitchen that are growing across the country. In order to make for that next great idea, we have to develop and mature the restaurants so they can survive on their own one day. As much as we are in the restaurant business, we really consider ourselves in the hospitality industry first. We take it seriously that guests decide to dine with us. With everything we do, we talk about how it could affect our guests and with that, how it could affect our employees. We have a saying where “Yes, is the answer. What is the question?”
Tell us about your career path and why you chose to enter the restaurant industry.
In college, I studied real estate for a bit but knew I always wanted to be in the industry. My parents were in the business. They had a deli in Chicago and a restaurant in Tucson called The Hungry Fox. Being basically raised in restaurants and watching my parents build a relationship with guests was really inspiring. Genuine hospitality was at their core and it’s something all our restaurants are based upon.
Each restaurant has a totally different feel and look. Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration all around me, from everything I do – at home in Arizona or when I’m traveling to new cities. It could be a place, a word, some unique ingredient, or even a cool person. Every restaurant and venue tells a story, it has a personality. That personality usually takes over and becomes what it was meant to be – a new restaurant, special dish, or a design approach.
You’ve opened restaurants all over Arizona. Does each city have a different feel/atmosphere/people?
Absolutely. Whether we are venturing into a totally new market or opening a restaurant 30 minutes outside of Phoenix in Gilbert – each city is unique in to its own and that means each restaurant has to be created with that location in mind. Our goal is always to put the guest first, and that means understanding their community – what their needs are and how we can provide them with an easy and delicious dining experience. Embracing and connecting with the local community is always a priority with each restaurant we open.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities as a restaurant owner?
When I’m not at our home office – the Big Kitchen – in Phoenix, I’m usually traveling. We go on a lot of real estate tours to different cities trying to discover where our next restaurant will open. I’m researching and developing new menus and design ideas all the time. For me, it’s about owning, operating, and developing these restaurants. We try not to ever rest on our morals. If lunch service was great, we ask ourselves how dinner can be better.
What’s your secret to making sure customers keep coming in? What have been some of your most successful promotions and what are they?
It starts with the guest. We’re successful because we’re very thoughtful of what works for our guests and what doesn’t, and then how that interacts with the restaurant. If our food costs go up, then we take the hit internally so that our guests aren’t affected by it. Our restaurants are really approachable – not on the low end but not on the high end either. We see a lot of volume, regular and new guests, so it’s important that there’s familiarity as well as sophisticated dishes that are meant to excite diners. One of our guests’ favorite promotions is our 25%-off days that run on Memorial and Labor Day. It’s an opportunity for us to say thank you and also encourage them to spend their day off with us at our restaurants.
What are some challenges a restaurant owner has and how have you overcome them?
Every day is different and brings new challenges. When I opened my first restaurant, I thought I knew everything about running a restaurant–but I didn’t know anything about running a business. There’s the restaurant side and the business side. You see a lot of restauranteurs who are really great at the business side and then you usually see chefs who are great at the restaurant side but have trouble with the business part. We strive to put the proper people in the right places which helps to make us really good at both.
When it comes to hiring, what kind of education, experience, or personalities do you look for in a potential employee?
We are always looking for people who have the potential to grow and become a part of our future. People who are passionate for the industry and understand hospitality. We also want our teams to relate and be passionate about their restaurant. You don’t have to be a yogi to work at True Food Kitchen, but we have tons of employees who really embrace that wellness lifestyle. Same for North Italia; we see a lot of staff who are passionate about wine and enjoy sharing their knowledge with the guests.
What is one strength you possess as an entrepreneur and how has it helped grow your business?
Surrounding myself with a strong team. I position people around me who are better and smarter than I am and are true experts in their field. You really can’t do it all on your own and it’s important to find people who support your goals and can help you get there.
What are the top three lessons you’ve learned personally and professionally throughout your career?
(1) Always put your family first. (2) Evolve. Change needs to be subtly but constantly happening. (3) Don’t take yesterday’s success for granted.