Last week, NRN introduced the 2011 Hot Concepts! award winners. The Hot Concepts! awards are given each year by Nation’s Restaurant News to young, growing chains that embody the perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit of the restaurant industry. This week, find out more about each of the five concepts who were able to identify and capitalize upon opportunities in their markets across varying cuisine, service style and formality. Today's winner spotlight is on True Food Kitchen.
Concept name: True Food Kitchen
Owner: Fox Restaurant Concepts
Headquarters: Scottsdale, Ariz.
Year founded: 2008
No. of units: 4
States where located: California, Arizona
Systemwide sales: $24 million
Average unit volume: $6 million
Average check: $18 at lunch, $28 at dinner
Target markets: Texas; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Miami; Charlotte, N.C.
Method of growth/ funding: lending facility from P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
Vision: a concept with “good-tasting food that’s healthy for you”
Restaurants based on specific dietary philosophies don’t tend to bloom into multiunit operations. But True Food Kitchen is doing just that and, thanks to $10 million in financial backing from P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, it’s poised to grow.
The menu at the four-unit casual-dining chain adheres to the anti-inflammatory dietary principles of Dr. Andrew Weil, who advocates a focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils and lean protein. Artificial sweeteners and refined sugars are shunned.
Nonetheless, True Food appeals to a broad spectrum of people, with 1,500 eating each day at its busiest restaurant in Newport Beach, Calif. Annual sales at that unit are around $8.5 million, according to Sam Fox, chief executive of Fox Restaurant Concepts, the concept’s Scottsdale, Ariz.-based parent company.
In addition to the Newport Beach location, True Foods has three other stores in Santa Monica, Calif.; Scottsdale; and Phoenix.
Anti-inflammatory cuisine wasn’t the sort of food that Sam Fox enjoyed eating, and, at first, it wasn’t the sort of restaurant that he wanted to be involved with.
“A hippie, Birkenstock-wearing restaurant’s not my genre,” said Fox, who operates 31 restaurants under 13 brands, including Sauce, North and Zinburger.
Still, Fox said, “There was a lot of noise” from his customers and the public generally about eating food that was vegan, gluten free or simply better for you.
Fox and Weil set out to create a concept that defied the stereotype that healthful food couldn’t taste good.
“Almost all the restaurants that I go to that advertise themselves as healthy are weird or boring,” Weil said. “This was not about health food, but food that’s fantastically delicious and happens to be good for you.”
Creating the menu took a lot of compromise. Fox insisted on hamburgers; Weil talked him down to bison. Weil relented when it came to steak tacos, which is one of the chain’s best sellers. Fox gave in when it came to pork, which is not on the menu.
Diet soda was another sticking point. Fox won that fight initially, and diet soda was available when the first unit opened in Phoenix in 2008. But chef Michael Stebner later developed some low-calorie options, using juices, teas and agave nectar, that satisfied both partners.
The menu changes five times a year. The teriyaki rice bowl is a top-selling main course, as is halibut with umami sauce, made with nutritional yeast flakes, vinegar and soy sauce.
Expansion is on the books thanks to an agreement inked between Fox and P.F. Chang’s in 2009, in which the parent company of P.F. Chang’s and Pei Wei Asian Diner would lend Fox $10 million. Once Fox spends the money, P.F. Chang’s has the option to convert that debt into a majority ownership of the restaurant brand.
“[True Food] is uniquely positioned, well developed and defined, and kind of swimming with the tide,” said Rick Federico, P. F. Chang’s chief executive. n
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
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Tomorrow: Twisted Root Burger Co.