Think the recession made it tough to attract customers in your town? Imagine what it's been like in Phoenix, where home prices fell 52 percent between 2007 and 2009. Factor in comparable losses to 401(k) account balances and people here didn't just feel like they were getting poorer as the recession wore on; they actually were, by a lot. You'd have to be crazy to open a 280-seat big-ticket steakhouse amidst this perfect storm of bad economic news and expect it to work.
But work it has for Sam Fox who, by the way, is anything but crazy. His Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts already ran a stable of eight successful concepts prior to opening Modern Steak in Scottsdale last October. It was the company's first steakhouse venture and the first element of an expansion push that includes a second new concept, a just-opened gastropub called Culinary Dropout, also in Scottsdale, plus two others in Phoenix later this year.
Few other restaurateurs could pursue this pace of expansion in the current climate. A look at Modern Steak shows how Fox is able pull it all off.
First, the location: inside a new addition to Scottsdale's Fashion Square Mall. It's one of the country's top 10 malls, posting sales per square foot of $618, versus the national average of $420. It's a place where people who still have money to throw around go to throw it.
Second, the look-and-feel are strictly contemporary. Old-school steakhouses set the mood with dim lighting, wood-paneled walls and tuxedoed waiters. Modern Steak features a bright, airy design. How come? “It has to be used by all kinds of people,” Fox told the Arizona Republic, “so it has to be gorgeous, welcoming, lush, vibrant and gracious.” It is.
Third, the menu and price points appeal to a wide variety of customers, not just steak lovers on a spending spree. Lunch, for example, is targeted to the shopping set, with most of the six starters, seven salads and seven sandwiches offerings priced just north of $10. Only two of the eight lunch entrees cost more than $15.
The dinner menu has an even-broader appeal. Guests in search of a classic steakhouse experience can certainly find one here. The meat section offers four “Midwest Prime Beef” options ranging from $35 for an 8-oz. filet to $48 for a bone-in rib eye. There are also four “All-Natural American Raised Beef” choices that start with a Meyer all-natural 12-oz. New York Strip that goes for $29 and proceed up to the Snake River Farms 9-oz. Wagyu rib eye for $64 and a Heart Brand Akaushi 8-oz. filet for $78. (Akaushi are a type of Japanese cattle that produce high-fat yet very low-cholesterol meat.)
Yet steaks account for a very small portion of Modern Steak's evening menu. Guests can choose from among nine other entrees, five of them seafood, including a miso-glazed Chilean sea bass for $35. Or they can opt for one of a dozen starters that include everything from a $95 seafood tower to an $18 foot-long Kobe beef hot dog (they're hoping three or four people will share) to a $12 margherita pizza. Most items in the eight-choice salad and soup section (Arugula & Sour Apple, Balsamic Onions, Blue Cheese and Candied Walnut Salad, $12) are priced in the low single digits. All 14 side-dish options cost $8 and are portioned to feed two.
Even the burger trend is represented here because Fox threw in an even lower-cost option: Modern Burger. It's a window operation open from noon to four each day. It offers twin sliders for $5.75, chopped turkey salad for $5.75 and ice cream sandwiches for $2.75.
Overseeing it all is executive chef Andrew Ashmore. He's only 26, but has already opened three restaurants, including Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak in Detroit and Stripsteak in Las Vegas. Ashmore executes this vast menu with precision.
Others in the industry will be watching closely to see how well Modern Steak does. It's unusual to see this style and size of restaurant go into a traditional shopping mall these days.
But don't bet against Fox. He's not a guy who creates new trends, but is a master at recognizing emerging ones early on and tweaking them to perfection. He's even been able to expand some of his concepts into other markets. Fox has units of his NoRTH modern Italian operation in Austin, TX, Leawood, KS, and Denver, plus fine-dining spot Bloom in Boulder, CO. The way Modern Steak is going, it could soon be an expansion vehicle, too.