Restaurateur revels in drama of new business - East Valley Tribune: News

Restaurateur revels in drama of new business

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Posted: Sunday, October 15, 2006 6:30 am | Updated: 4:03 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Sam Fox said he doesn’t get much sleep these days. But it’s hard to tell when watching the rapid pace at which the president and chief executive of Fox Restaurant Concepts moves when he’s overseeing preparation of his new eatery, Olive & Ivy Restaurant & Marketplace at the Scottsdale Waterfront.

“Last night I went to bed at one (o’clock) and I got up at five (o’clock),” he said. “The adrenaline keeps you going. It feels good.”

Fox spent last week tending to last minute details before Olive & Ivy’s opening Monday.

“It’s like opening a Broadway play,” he said. “(On) opening night, the curtain comes up and you’d better have everything in place.”

The new restaurant at 7135 E. Camelback Road will employ 175 workers. The menu features Mediterranean style cuisine, and the architecture has an upscale décor that Fox describes as “South Beachy” and “sexy.”

Fox said he generated the idea about 3 1/2 years ago while vacationing in the Mediterranean with his wife, Emily. The restaurant, which cost about $5 million, houses a wine bar, a patio with water features, two private dining rooms and accommodates up to 200 patrons. It also has a European-style market with an espresso bar, ready-made sandwiches and bottled beverages, among other things.

“We’ve got a great location,” he said. “The design (is) over the top. . . . We feel very confident that this is going to be a huge success.”

Olive & Ivy is just the latest in a long lineup of restaurants with various themes that Fox has developed. Fox, 38, grew up in the restaurant business, and his father, Aaron Fox, owned restaurants in Chicago and Tucson.

The younger Fox opened his first restaurant in Tucson when he was 21 years old. Then, in 1997, he started Fox Restaurant Concepts with a single location that cost about $300,000. He now sits at the helm of a privately held company with 1,300 employees and 19 restaurants with nine stylistic concepts and cuisines. The company made $47 million in revenue this year, up from $33 million in 2005.

Fox’s restaurant themes range from a French-style eatery and wine bar called Bistro Zin, to a nostalgic American-style restaurant called The Counter, which is reminiscent of the soda fountains once found in drugstores throughout the middle 20th century. Fox is developing four new concepts that he plans to roll out in the near future, and he has ideas for as many as 50 new restaurants.

“It’s not really work for me,” he said. “It’s really my life and my passion. I get to live my dream every day.”

Fox has restaurants in Mesa, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Glendale, Tucson, Denver, Colo. He’s planning to expand into Austin, Texas with his North restaurant. He hopes to expand to eight more cities by 2011.

But Fox said he doesn’t plan too far into the future.

“It’s hard for me to look ten years down the road,” he said. “We sort of take it one day at a time. We’re only as good as the dinner we serve tonight . . .” he said.

Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said Fox excels at targeting a particular demographic and consistently meeting its expectations.

That’s created a faithful customer base for the entrepreneur, which is a big challenge in a state with the second fastest-growing restaurant industry in the nation. Arizona ranks only behind Nevada in sales growth. Arizona accumulated $6.7 billion in restaurant sales in 2005. That’s expected to grow to $7.4 billion this year.

Chucri said Fox has two key personality trait that makes a restaurateur successful.

“I would say passion and stamina are a must,” he said. “He’s got both. You’re basically knocked out after the first round if you don’t have that.”

Buzz Gosnell, president of developer Woodbine Southwest, said Fox’s restaurants have contributed to the diverse mix of dining options at the company’s Kierland Commons project in northeast Phoenix.

“I think he really looks at the market (and) what’s missing,” he said.

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