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Tips for opening a restaurant from a seasoned restaurateur

Sam Fox, CEO of Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, has launched more than a dozen different restaurant brands and has upwards of 40 units under his helm. For his latest venture, a healthy fast-casual concept in Phoenix called Flower Child, Fox drew from his industry knowledge and pulled out all of the stops, even blowing through the budget repeatedly. But it was worth it, says Fox, who calls Flower Child “one of the best things we’ve ever done.” Here’s what other operators can learn about opening a restaurant today from Fox’s most recent launch:

Takeaway should not be an after thought

According to Fox, some 25 percent of food sold at Flower Child, which opened in April 2014, is purchased for takeaway. In addition to a regular dine-in menu, Flower Child offers grab-and-go Family Dinners for three to five people plus Friends and Neighbors meals, available for five to seven people. “Grocery stores like Whole Foods have done a good job of meal replacement and becoming restaurants,” says Fox. His “healthy to-go” options compete with the grocery stores with a steak, chicken, salmon or tofu option, all of which come with sides.

Be transparent with your food

Part of the mission statement at Flower Child is to put quality on display. Not only does an open kitchen create energy, says Fox, “it speaks to the food we’re doing. [It displays] our sustainable, organic, high-quality product that we’re proud of.”

Invest in a beverage program

The beverage program is a prominent part of Flower Child’s health-forward menu. The restaurant has kombucha, a fermented black tea, on tap, plus there are six self-serve bubblers, half stocked with teas and half with lemonades. “[Guests are] enjoying the interaction of doing their own beverages,” says Fox.

Use ALL of your space

The designers of Flower Child used every bit of space to evoke the restaurant’s “healthy food for a happy world” theme. That included painting phrases on the floors and windows. ‘It gives identity and personality,” says Fox. It also helps keep the feeling throughout, he adds.

Hire smart

For staffing a restaurant, Fox says it’s all about hiring the right people. While training is important, you need people who are inherently friendly. At Flower Child, Fox knew he had to hire a young staff for the youthful energy he envisioned. In fact, it is the first-ever job for half of the staff, and 80 percent of the front-of-house staff had never worked in a restaurant. Fox says he knew going in that a workforce of this makeup would require more training, but was willing to invest the time in people who seemed inherently positive and friendly.

Connect to the community

“Supporting local is investing in the future,” says Fox. “Hopefully you’ll see increased sales from [people] who support you as well as the local community.” To start sourcing locally, Fox suggests operators go to two or three different local farmers markets at different times on different days. “See what you enjoy and who you connect with, who you respect,” he says.

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