Fox Restaurant Concepts opened its seventh True Food Kitchen on Tuesday in Dallas, signaling the start of ramped-up expansion for the health-oriented casual-dining concept.

“We’ve been going slow, and we’re better for it,” said Sam Fox, founder of the 14-concept company.

Beyond the new unit in Dallas, the True Food Kitchen brand currently has units in Arizona (Phoenix and Scottsdale), California (Newport Beach, San Diego and Santa Monica) and Colorado (Denver). The Scottsdale location has added a new fresh-pressed juice concept that the restaurant group has named Juby True.

The Phoenix, Ariz.-based restaurant group plans on taking the True Food Kitchen concept eastward by opening four to five units in 2014. The company plans to open the next True Food Kitchen in Houston in April, followed by a unit in Fairfax, Va., in May, one in Atlanta in late June, and one in Boston in late 2014.

Fox said the company may squeeze in a fifth opening in 2014 and is planning to open six to seven restaurants in 2015. “We’ll probably be in the six-to-eight range a year,” Fox said.

The first True Food Kitchen opened in 2008 in Phoenix with the help of anti-inflammatory diet expert Dr. Andrew Weil, and the company later got a capital infusion from P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.

Units range from 4,000 square feet at the original in Phoenix to 11,000 square feet, the largest being in San Diego. The Dallas unit is about 5,000 square feet with about 130 seats. “As we go east, we’ll go to 7,000 to 7,500 square feet,” Fox said.

Each restaurant gets green certification, uses compostable takeout packaging and menus printed on paper from renewable resources, he said.

The new Dallas location includes a few new menu items, including a grass-fed New York steak, a Texas Gulf shrimp and a Texas redfish that replaces a barramundi on other units’ menus, Fox said.

“A lot of the menus will look different on the East Coast than they would in California,” Fox said, as the restaurants adjust to local supply chains. “Not only will the restaurants feel a little bit different, but the menu will feel a little bit different.”

Popular dishes will remain, however, such as the kale salad, rice bowl and edamame dumplings, he said. “Every time we open a store, we get new ideas about what we can do better. We’re together as group for four days,” Fox said.

The concept has been working on some new items as well, including nearly carb-free noodles and nutritional yeasts. “We slowly introduce these and see if we get traction or not,” Fox said.

Fox said the customer demographic base has proven to be broad. “We get a wide range of guests,” he said. “On the one side, are the vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, celiacs or whatever special dietary needs they have. Then there’s the middle; the people who like to eat healthy and want great taste, and the farm-to-table people. There’s a wide range of people. We don’t want that veto vote. But we are always looking to tweak things.”

With the Dallas opening, True Food is also looking at beefing up its dinner entrée offerings to notch up the possibility of more adult beverage sales. “Our wine sales are good, but they could be better,” he said. “We’ll be adding more dinner-style items that I think will help us with more of the alcohol sales.”

Fox said the investment by P.F. Chang’s has yielded a good working relationship that has proven helpful as the True Food brand ventures eastward. “Their organization has been starting to help us as we go east,” Fox explained, “from construction and the development side where they have more experience.

Fox Restaurant Concepts has 14 brands, including Blanco Tacos + Tequila, North Italia, Sauce Pizza & Wine, Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar, Culinary Dropout, The Arrogant Butcher, Wildflower American Cuisine, Olive & Ivy Restaurant, The Greene House, A Legend Is Here, The Henry and The Rocket pizza food truck.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
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