Phoenix restaurateur has major expansion plan underway in Austin area

Phoenix-based restaurant titan Sam Fox has ambitious plans as Austin’s appetite for innovative eateries grows.

As CEO and founder oFox Restaurant Concepts, he recently opened Flower Child, a healthy casual brand, at Domain Northside. Adjacent to that restaurant, Culinary Dropout — one of the company’s 16 brands — also opened.

And that’s just for starters. Fox told me he is also close to signing leases in downtown Austin for a second Flower Child and a second North Italia bistro.

Fox is a solid commodity in the highly volatile restaurant business. He founded Fox Restaurant Concepts in 1998, originally in Tucson, and has been growing the company ever since — through two recessions. Twice he’s been named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Restaurateur” award and also been named one of the most powerful people in the food service industry by Nation’s Restaurant News.

North, an Italian eatery, was one of Fox Restaurant Concept’s formative brands and it was his first foray into Austin a decade ago.

“(North) was one of The Domain’s original tenants and it was very successful,” Fox said.

In fact, it represents that brand’s most successful location, he added. That’s saying something, given that there are nine locations operating in an expanse from Kansas City to Southern California.

With Fox opening three restaurants in the Austin area this year and two more in the works, he’s upbeat about wolfing down more Central Texas real estate.

“We’re just very excited to be in Austin,” Fox said.

One of Fox’s brands — True Food Kitchen, which he created in partnership with celebrity doctor and author Andrew Weil — opened this spring at the Seaholm redevelopment project downtown.

Its concept is upscale healthy food: Brussels Sprouts & Wild Mushroom pizza meets sustainable sea bass.

Fox says he’s been thrilled with that deal, which was signed with local developer Southwest Strategies Group.

So when Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group came calling with a new retail development within The Domain named “Domain Northside,” Fox was chomping at the bit. He signed for 5,092 square feet for Culinary Dropout and 3,541 square feet for Flower Child.

Culinary Dropout is a gastro-pub/restaurant that intends to evoke a revolutionary vibe — Mohawk haircuts, tattoos and some eclectic cocktails, such as “Pistols at Dawn” and “Four Star Brunette.”

“Culinary Dropout couldn’t be more spot on for Austin,” Fox said.

Flower Child, by contrast, is a more affordable healthy restaurant — “a journey to food enlightenment,” according to its website — where you can grab a Thai Cashew Quinoa bowl or the Flying Avocado whole grain wrap.

The carefully designed spaces are created in-house. Fox relied on Austin-based Trinity Constructors to handle the complex build-out.

Fox is thrilled that the two restaurants are located in the nexus of Domain Northside with a patio immediately adjacent to the development’s central park.

The whole synergy seems right, he said.

“Plus we just like the idea of clustering locations in cities,” Fox noted of the decision to take two adjacent spaces at Domain Northside.

So how does Fox handle recruitment in a market where capable and reliable service and hospitality workers are in short supply?

“We have a great training program, a great culture and we try to give our workers two consecutive days off each week,” Fox said.

Growth opportunities also give Fox Restaurant Concepts a competitive edge, Fox added.

“You could come in as a dishwasher and two years later be an early sous chef,” he said.

Source: Austin Business Journal
Jan Buchholz, Senior Staff Writer

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