The first indication that Fox Restaurant Concepts is playing the fast-casual game different is its chefs. Each of FRC’s 11 Flower Child stores employs an executive chef supported by at least two sous chefs plus a regional chef charged with ongoing culinary training. There’s a five-day work week for kitchen leaders. Full benefits and sales bonuses, too. Your average bakery-cafe chain is not making that same investment. Nor are most spending $150–500,000 per store on back-of-house equipment on par with full-service kitchens. Or employing a mixologist and certified sommelier as national beverage director.
FRC is investing in all that and more because its founder, nine-time James Beard Award nominee, Sam Fox, believes in pushing the notion of what chain restaurants should be. And, with an initial minority investment and ongoing capital from The Cheesecake Factory, there seems to be no limit to where FRC can take its “healthy food for a happy world” approach to fast-casual bakery.
For now, national growth is the focus. The Arizona-based chain opened it first East Coast location in Atlanta in mid-July. Another four locations are scheduled to open in Colorado, the D.C. area and Houston by year’s end. Ten more are planned for 2019.
“We don’t really have a one-size fits all approach to where we grow,” says FRC founder and CEO Sam Fox. “We’re very flexible; 3,100 to 4,000-sqft with street access and parking.”
What every market will have in common a veggie-based menu akin to options found at former FRC sister brand, True Food Kitchen, which was sold in 2017. In fact, much of the team that developed the concept are behind the scenes at Flower Child, including Chief Culinary Officer Clint Woods. That kinship is evident in Flower Child’s menu of organic, locally-sourced, vegetarian and vegan dishes inspired by global cuisines. At any given moment, Woods says, a Flower Child diner might eat off a plate with ingredients from all seven continents.
“We prep the way we want to. We make pitas three times a day and roast our veggies in an $130,000 pizza oven because we make up for it in volume.” — FRC CEO/Founder Sam Fox
Aside from the inherent health halo, Flower Child’s vegetable-focused menu also offers operational and bottomline benefits. Chefs spend about $1,000 per day on produce, but the scratch-made, made-to-order menu means product rarely sits. “Our chefs run really tight operations,” Woods says. “We don’t overspend on product. When your menu is vegetable based, you have an opportunity to make money.”
Traffic helps. And, according to Fox, Flower Child has that and then some. “We make the food the way we want to make it,” Fox says. “We prep the way we want to. We make pitas three times a day and roast our veggies in an $130,000 pizza oven because we make up for it in volume.”
Including line time, a Flower Child diner can be in and out in about 30 minutes, longer if they choose to linger over a regional beer or or a glass of wine. Walk-in, to-go orders take about 10 minutes, estimates FRC Director of Marketing Tracy McGinnis.
Diners are made up of what Flower Child insiders alternatively describe as “the SoulCycle/Lululemon crowd” and “hip, yoga mom … Kate Hudson-types”. Once inside, they find open-kitchens, live plants, stone tables, a beverage bar of daily-made lemonades, flavored waters, and iced teas. Ingredient-based salads start at $8. Bowls and wraps range from $10–$12. Add-on proteins—chicken, salmon, beef, and tofu—are all natural and available for $4 for non-GMO tofu to $7 for grass-fed steak served medium. Fifteen percent of sales are from beverages. Lunch is only slightly busier than dinner, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Forty-percent of Flower Child orders are to-go, either through walk-ins, online or third-party delivery in some areas. To accommodate that market and “keep the happiness”, each store has a dedicated to-go area for call ahead or online orders. Delivery and breakfast are being tested in markets close to FRC’s Arizona home base.
A new marketing campaign designed to build national awareness and sales launched in August. An app-based loyalty program is on the horizon, too. All in the service of selling Flower Child’s version of “happiness” first to consumers, then possibly to partner Cheesecake Factory or other interested parties.