Sam Fox – 2020 Innovation Award Recipient
Raised on hospitality, Sam Fox spent much of his childhood in his family’s restaurant, treasure hunting for change under the seats at night, and later, waiting tables and helping out in the kitchen. Today, having opened over 100 restaurants of his own (with a dozen more openings cooking for 2020), Sam is a 11-time James Beard Award semifinalist for Restaurateur of the Year, a New York Times best-selling cookbook author, and was named one of the 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry by Nation’s Restaurant News for five consecutive years. In 2019, he announced the sale of his restaurant group, Fox Restaurant Concepts (FRC), to The Cheesecake Factory. Fox remains as the CEO of FRC, forming a one-of-a-kind partnership never before seen in the restaurant industry.
Drive by FRC’s Phoenix corporate headquarters (lovingly called the “Big Kitchen”), and the first and last light you’ll see on is in Sam’s office, from which he continues to direct one of the most successful restaurant groups in the U.S. FRC employs more than 6,000 people across 10 states, with plans for continued significant growth in years to come.
Not too shabby for a college dropout. At age 20, Sam dropped out of the University of Arizona and used his tuition money to open his first restaurant. He launched that first FRC concept, Wildflower, in 1998, but became a household name after putting healthy dining on the map when he partnered with Dr. Andrew Weil to open the first True Food Kitchen in Phoenix in 2008. (Today, Oprah is a partner.) Sam has now developed over 20 unique concepts, 10 of which currently operate under the FRC umbrella, including Flower Child, Culinary Dropout and The Henry. Next up: Look for Sam to open his first Phoenix hotel driven by food and to partner with a celeb for a Nashville restaurant we’ll all want a VIP pass to.
Sam’s intense love of the restaurant business has him leaving his fingerprints across each restaurant he opens. Each and every menu item goes through a tasting with Sam. That cool plumbing fixture at Blanco in San Diego? Sam picked it. The dripping paint mural at all the Flower Child restaurants? Yup, Sam, too. The creative visionary has earned some well-deserved street cred as a trendspotter and one of the most intuitive minds in the industry. He is known for popularizing the kale salad (#sorrynotsorry) and is recognized as one of the first to succeed in healthy dining with concepts that are thriving from coast to coast. He has been profiled by numerous media outlets, including Forbes, CBS News and CNBC.
Sam generously gives back to the communities his restaurants serve through FRC’s charitable arm: Feed the Soul and the Fox Family Foundation. And in his spare time, Sam enjoys travelling with his wife and children, sipping on various libations and thinking up new concepts. (See for yourself on his Instagram.)
2019 Phoenix Business Journal Person of the Year
2019 Golden Chain Award, Nation’s Restaurant News
2017 Hot Concept Award, Nation’s Restaurant News*
2017 Power 20 List, Restaurant Business
2015 Executive of the Year, University of Arizona Eller College of Management
2014 Richard Melman Innovator of the Year Award, Restaurant Hospitality
2011 Hot Concept Award, Nation’s Restaurant News*
2005 Hot Concept Award, Nation’s Restaurant News*
*Sam is the only three-time recipient of the Hot Concept Award