Having grown up in the restaurant world, Sam Fox thought he knew everything about the business. He quickly realized how wrong he'd been once he opened his own restaurant at age 21.
To get his island-themed grill up and running, he raised money from friends and family and used what would have been his tuition money for the semester. It was then that he realized how little he actually knew about the business side of running a restaurant.
"I lost a lot of money and didn't really have the money to lose," said Fox, who is now 47.
He found himself behind on all of his bills, and it was a real struggle to keep the joint open. But things eventually turned a corner, and he sold the business for half a million dollars in its third year.
The island-themed restaurant was just the first of many concepts Fox would cook up over the years, but if Fox's father had had his way, his son wouldn't even have entered the competitive industry.
"My dad really didn't want me to do anything in the restaurant business," he said. "He wanted me to go to college and get a degree."
Starting a restaurant wasn't Fox's only risky move. He dropped out of college before his junior year after vowing to himself that he would never work for anyone else ever again following a bad experience at an internship.
Since then, Fox has built a nationwide restaurant empire of 50 restaurants as CEO of Fox Restaurant Concepts, where he expects annual sales to reach about $260 million this year. Thirty more are in the pipeline and are scheduled to open during the next two years.
He credits much of his success to his employees.
"We have great people who have been here a long time to run the company," he said.
Setting high expectations also helps. The real goal is to get better every single day, Fox said.