Emerging Brands

Restaurateur Sam Fox plots a busy 2018

The Phoenix-based multiconcept operator plans to open 19 new units, including one first-time expansion, this year.

Sam Fox, the Phoenix-based restaurateur known for concepts such as Culinary Dropout and North Italia, won’t be rolling out any new restaurant brands in 2018.

But that’s about the only thing Fox Restaurant Concepts doesn’t have on the agenda this year.

On the docket:

  • Six new locations of upscale contemporary Italian concept North Italia.
  • Nine new units of health-focused fast casual Flower Child.
  • Two new Blanco Tacos + Tequila units—the first expansion in four years for the 13-year-old Mexican concept—which will see a refreshed menu and updated decor in the new units.
  • Two new units of The Henry, the first expansion of the single-unit neighborhood bistro.

“A lot of things have to align for us to step out of our boutique brands,” says Fox, about expanding The Henry. His company oversees 15  restaurant brands, and has also grown concepts such as Sauce Pizza & Wine and True Food Kitchen through acquisitions and partnerships. “There’s a lot of art to that.”

Both new units of The Henry will be larger than the original 6,500-square-foot location in Phoenix. One will go into an 8,000-square-foot building in West Hollywood that’s located on a retail-heavy street in the midst of a revival. The other is slated for a new development in Dallas. That location—along with its bakery, private dining facility, two bars and a rooftop deck—will take over a two-story, 13,000-square-foot custom-built space.

Does the rocky state of full-service dining—not to mention the challenging restaurant business as a whole—keep Fox up at night? He’s got a construction budget of more than $50 million slated for 2018, after all.

“I’m nervous all the time,” he says. “But we’re coming from a pretty good base of restaurants.”

The growth of both North Italia and Flower Child is funded via an investment from The Cheesecake Factory. Fox Restaurant Concepts fiscally supports the expansion of the smaller concepts.

It’s almost the one-year anniversary of Fox’s newest concept, Doughbird, a full-service rotisserie chicken and pizza restaurant. And this newest brand is slated for growth, too. At least one Doughbird will open in Texas in 2019, this one a bit larger than the original Phoenix location, which is 4,100 square feet.

“We underestimated the volume for the kitchen,” he says. “We need a bigger, more efficient kitchen and a larger prep space.”

To accommodate off-premise orders, which make up 30% of Doughbird’s business, Fox’s crew removed several seats from the bar to create a to-go area. The restaurant hired a dedicated staff member to expedite takeout and delivery orders.

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