Deen and Kelly Fox believe that family is the key to success. After years of working in corporate America and wanting to spend more time with their children, the couple decided to risk everything and purchase a restaurant of their own. Last year the family purchased Rosemary District’s Station 400 and has since opened just opened two new locations. We caught up with Deen and Kelly to hear about what it takes to run a business, and a family, together.
Are you from Sarasota, if not where are you from and what brought you here?
K: I’m actually from Chicago but my parents retired here in Venice. I always loved Sarasota and I ended up moving here shortly after they did.
D: Originally I’m from Orlando and I’ve been in Florida most of my life. I actually came to Sarasota for business with my last job. Previous to buying this place, I was at Outback and Bonefish Grill for about 25 years as a managing partner.
Were you always interested in the service industry?
K: Well Deen has always worked in the restaurant business. This restaurant is all him. I was working in property management previously and he handles operations while I handle marketing and catering. Deen was under so much stress from the corporate structure that we just felt like we needed a change.
What made you decide to open your own restaurant?
D: Really it was the hours that were involved with it and I hit a ceiling in corporate. I didn’t want to go to multi-units where there was a lot of travel involved. We always wanted to do something on our own where it gives us the flexibility to write our own schedule. 80 % of all restaurants go out of business within the first 3 years and I think a lot of that is Mom and Pop places that have never been in the business. They have great intentions and recipes but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts like finances and accounting, they’re not ready for it. I’ve always excelled in corporate because of the business aspect. Opening up a restaurant is always a risk, but so far it’s been a risk well worth taking.
When the opportunity came about last year, how did you know you wanted to purchase Station 400?
D: We knew the restaurant already and loved it. We knew it had a good reputation and heard from a friend that the owners were selling it. We were looking for a different set of challenges, something we could build on our own and also be at home with our kids at night. We have a 5-year-old now at home. We also have a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old. We decided we really wanted to spend more time with the little one, coach tee ball and do all the things normal families do. The opportunity became available to us in a time when I was already wanting to leave the corporate structure and do something on my own.
You’ve mentioned spending more time with your kids and that they’re involved with Station 400. Can you tell us more about that?
D: Well, for now, the two older boys are. Austin is the assistant manager at our new location, The Landings, and Justin is a server. It’s kind of cool. Austin wants to eventually become a general manager and we’ve discussed the possibility of a partnership after he finishes school and gets his bachelors degree. And Preston, the 5-year-old, told me when that he grows up that he wants to work at Station 400. When I asked him what he wants to be, he told me the boss.
Is there any significance in the name Station 400?
D: This actually used to be a train station. It was built in 1852 and was originally in Kentland, Indiana. They disassembled it, brought it down here by train and then reassembled the building. Even 50 years ago in Sarasota, a train used to come right through here. It’s on the corner of 400 N Lemon, so that’s where Station 400 comes from. We still have people who call us to make train reservations, usually a little old man or lady not realizing that we’re a restaurant. We laugh but feel bad to have to break the news to them.
Tell us about the menu. What are some favorite dishes of your family and of guests?
K: The Nutella Waffle. Both our guests and our son Preston love the Nutella Waffle with the Brulee banana. People also love the Fried Green Tomato BLT, you can’t go wrong with fried green tomatoes. The Truffle Parmesan Fries and Chicken Salad Croissant are really popular as well. My favorite has actually turned into Coach Vicki’s Kale Salad. That had nothing to do with us, we asked our personal trainer to come up with vegan items so we could cater to our vegan guests. She came up with a couple of great ones.
D: In addition to the Nutella Waffle, the Truffles Egg Benedict, and our Fried Green Tomato Benedict are also best sellers. I love breakfast and I love spicy, so my favorite is the Huevos Gringos. It’s this amazing dish, in fact, it’s our number one seller for breakfast. Our other sons Austin and Justin love the Balsamic Chicken. They’ll take it, throw it in a wrap and get creative with it.
Where did you get your inspiration for your menu?
K: We really just wanted it to be an innovative twist on everybody’s favorites. Breakfast and lunch, everyone has their favorites. So that’s where we start, we put that extra chef inspired twist on all of our items. Like our Pancake Parlor and our Benedicts. We have different types of Hollandaise sauce to choose from. Everything here is made from scratch, which is really important to us.
We’ve read that Station 400 offers specialty mimosas, can you tell us more about them?
D: We have about 20 different recipes and we usually keep four or five classics and add a seasonal recipe. Right now we’re testing a Gingerbread Mimosa and a Pumpkin one for the holiday season. Again, we want to be a little different. You can go anywhere to get your Orange Juice Mimosa, but you can only come here for the Blood Orange Mimosa.
K: It’s so fun coming up with the different mimosa recipes. Our general manager at the Lakewood Ranch location really likes to play around with the mimosa recipes and we really like to test them. Here at Station 400 we use the hashtag #MimosasMadeMeDoIt and encourage guests to do the same.
What do Saturday and Sunday mornings look like at Station 400?
D: A lot of mimosas. We sell almost 2 to 3 times more mimosas here in the Rosemary District than our other locations. The brunch crowd is great here. Being north of Fruitville, we are seasonal. Right now it’s a little bit slow, but once you get into the season everyone loves to come and sit outside. We also do a lot of cool events outside once the weather cools off. We do networking events, holiday parties, and we’ve even had a wedding.
What does the vibe feel like at Station 400?
K: Well all of our locations have a different vibe. But this one being in the Rosemary district has a very eclectic-artsy vibe. You can look at the clientele in all the restaurants and you can see how they’re all different and the vibe really reflects the crowd. This location has a lot of students from the local colleges and lots of foodies who appreciate our innovative menu.
When it comes to the menu, how do you keep things new and exciting?
D: Every six months we’ll do a spring and a fall menu. We want to keep things fresh that way. We’ll keep the classics and the favorites, but we’ll change two or three items on the breakfast and two or three on the lunch. We’ll even take recommendations from customers and put our own flare on it. It’s nice to have the flexibility to be able to do that.
Speaking of innovation and change, how do you feel about the transformation happening in the Rosemary District?
K: I love that Sarasota has a skyline now. I’m from Chicago and I love a city vibe. It’s becoming more walkable. People are now able to walk from the restaurant to the shops and soon they’ll be able to park blocks away and walk around the neighborhood. I love that feeling.
D: I’ve been in Sarasota for about 25 years. Before you didn’t see much growth but now it’s exciting to see it. This is new Sarasota and I think the city really just needed a shot of adrenaline. It’s exciting to see them building around our business. We’re starting to see all the upgrades like the Ritz, the Westin, and Indigo. It’ll never be as big as Chicago, but it’s still turning into a hot little city.
You’ve recently opened a third Station 400 location. What does the future look like for the business and yourselves?
K: I kind of hyperventilate when Deen talks about growth, but we did just open up the third location in the Landings and it’s really exciting. The new restaurant is doing well and we’ve got a great staff there. We’ve been really blessed. For me, I’m happy and we’re in a great place.
D: Kelly’s concerned I want to grow it to be too big, but I really don’t want to ever get to be that big. I want to stay in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. We still want each restaurant to be its own individual place and we want each run differently with different general managers and staff and its own personality. We want to grow slowly and methodically. Maybe add one or two more restaurants, but we never want it to be that big corporate conglomerate where I’m back to working 80 hour weeks. Every restaurant will still be family run, with that small mom and pop feel to it.