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Industry celebrates Melman Award winner Sam Fox

Industry celebrates Melman Award winner Sam Fox

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When it comes time to select a Melman Award winner every year, RH presents a short list of contenders to Melman himself. This time around, the verdict was swift.

“I like Sam Fox!” Rich said. “He’s one of the brightest young stars in the industry.”

Both men were on hand in Dallas recently at the MUFSO conference in Dallas, where Restaurant Hospitality Editor Michael Sanson and Melman presented the Innovator Award to Fox.

“I’m humbled by this award,” Fox said during the awards ceremony. “It’s a huge honor from someone I respect very much.”

Fox said he’s been fortunate enough to spend time with Melman during the winter months in Phoenix, where Melman has a home. The two men often lunch together and talk about the business. “Those moments have been very special," Fox said.

Like Melman, there’s no denying Sam’s star power. Earlier this year, RH’s sister publication, Nation’s Restaurant News, named Fox to its Power List of the 50 Most Influential People in the restaurant industry.

And if you look at Sam’s portfolio, you can see he’s headed down the same path that Melman has so richly plowed.

Melman, of course, is the founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in Chicago and considered by most as the greatest concept creator of all time. For the last 43 years he has created some of America’s most compelling restaurants. Today, Lettuce is company with more than 100 units producing sales north of $500 million.

Fox hasn’t been at it nearly as long, though he’s well on his way to becoming an industry superstar. He opened his first restaurant—Wildflower—in Tucson in 1998. Since then, his Phoenix-based  Fox Restaurant Concepts has opened more than 41 restaurants, encompassing 15 different concepts in 6 states. The company employs more than 3,000 people.

Like Rich Melman, Sam Fox has a fertile mind for creating a wide array of restaurant concepts that offer great food in a hip environment.

Consider this: among Fox Restaurants are a burger bar, a pizza joint, a gastropub, a market/restaurant, a modern Mexican eatery, a seafood house, an Italian taverna, an urban grill, a juice bar and a food truck.

Beyond those concepts, Fox has made a strong foray into the better-for-you arena with The Greenhouse, which serves inspired California cuisine, True Food Kitchen, which produces great-tasting healthful food, and Flower Child, a fast-casual, farm-to-table concept that opened earlier this year.

His instincts are right on: The popularity of True Food Kitchen has pushed its expansion into six states, with more on the way.

In much the same way Melman did, Fox is building up a broad lineup of dynamic restaurant concepts that are hitting all the hot buttons for sophisticated consumers.

And he’s only 46 years old, so we can expect a whole lot more cool restaurant concepts from him in the years ahead. Melman got it right: He’s one of the industry’s brightest young stars.

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