The Fabulous Mr. Fox

By Shayna Mace

While most of us have heard of famous college dropouts who’ve gone on to do amazing things (Mark Zuckerberg, anyone?) there’s a quieter, less-known success story in Sam Fox, who opened his first restaurant at the age of 21 after leaving the University of Arizona after his sophomore year. Fox went on to sell his first restaurant at age 24 for a healthy profit, join another restaurant venture, then struck off on his own in 1998 with Fox Restaurant Concepts and its first eatery—Wildflower American Cuisine in Tucson (which is still around today). We asked Fox about his success in crafting 46 unique restaurants under the brand and his 11 James Beard Foundation Award nominations.

Your restaurants always seem to be ahead of the curve. How do you forecast trends?

We were an early adopter of fast-casual pizza with a concept called Sauce in 2005. Then we partnered with Dr. Andrew Weil and opened a place called True Food Kitchen and set the trend for healthy eating on a more national scale. We’re always looking at what’s on trend, what’s new, how can we do it better and how can our guests enjoy it a little differently. Because things change quickly today and our organization needs to be able to adapt.

What trends will we see in restaurants coming up in the next five years?

We’ll continue to see healthy eating. Off of True Food Kitchen we spun off a brand called Flower Child, which is our healthy fast-casual place. It checks a lot of the boxes of the trend: healthy, more affordable and quick and convenient.

You’ll see technology … like mobile orders and food delivery services continue. It’s trying to solve the issue of what’s our most valuable commodity— and that’s time.

Another big trend happening today are threemeal-a-day restaurants. We have The Henry, which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch on weekends, drinks, has private dining, and has a fastcasual coffee bar. So it acts in many different ways. These restaurants with “personalities” become neighborhood gathering spots.

Restaurants with singularly-focused items will also grow, like restaurants that just serve chicken or certain ethnic foods.

How does FRC work with event and meeting planners to craft a unique experience at your restaurants?

It’s not one thing—it’s several things. It’s the personality of the spaces we’ve curated; [they’re] not your traditional banquet rooms. We have many different types of cuisine, so there are many different things we can do. If guests have special dietary needs like food allergies or are gluten-free—we’re able to execute a lot of those special requests in the moment. [And guests are] coming to a place that has multiple options—they can come to one of our restaurants before an event, work on their computer, go to the private dining function, have a drink and come back out and play corn hole or watch sports. Some of our places have really become neighborhood gathering spots.

You’ve been a semifinalist 11 times for various James Beard Awards over the years—how does that feel?

It’s great recognition for our people—our chef team, our managers and our hourly people. How well we execute our restaurants is why we get recognized. It’s a great honor and to be recognized by your peers in the industry is uniquely exciting, and I cherish it all of the time.