Power of Two

Business collaborators Sam Fox and Brian Frakes chalk up another success with The Global Ambassador.

By Nora Burba Trulsson

Photography courtesy of The Global Ambassador

Literally and figuratively, Sam Fox has his fingers in many pies. Brian Frakes, it could be said, makes sure those pies get baked and delivered. Restaurateur Fox, founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts, and developer Frakes, principal of Common Bond Development Group, opened their most recent collab, The Global Ambassador, in December 2023. The luxe hotel in the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix—the first hotel project for both of them—looks to be a smash hit, judging from the buzz around the project and the crowds enjoying the property’s five food and beverage venues, 141 rooms, wellness offerings, meeting spaces and private club options.

“I’ve been wanting to get into a hotel project for a while,” says Fox, “and when the land became available, Brian and I went full on. We took on a more grandiose project than we ever thought.”

Fox and Frakes’ paths crossed years ago in Tucson. Born in Chicago, Fox grew up in Tucson, where his family was in the restaurant business. In a now-legendary move, Fox, who was enrolled at UA, took his tuition money, dropped out of school and used the funds to open a restaurant in 1992. “It was called Gilligan’s Bar and Grill, in Tucson, and loosely based on the TV show, ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” Fox explains. It was the first inkling of Fox’s genius for coming up with restaurant concepts. “We featured a Thurston Howell country club sandwich on the menu,” he remembers with a laugh.

Also a UA Wildcat, Frakes initially got to know Fox through his wife, who was friends with Fox’s wife. “When I was a student at UA, we paid Sam’s bills with our parents’ money by eating and drinking at Gilligan,” jokes Frakes.

Fox, though, moved on from Gilligan’s and opened Wildflower in 1998, which served modern American food and was located in the Casas Adobes neighborhood of Tucson. The restaurant—still open—was the genesis of Fox Restaurant Concepts. “Right after Wildflower, I then had the opportunity to do another restaurant almost around the corner,” Fox explains, “so I had to come up with another concept so it wouldn’t compete.” Thus, Zinburger was born. Bloom in Scottsdale followed, then North Italia at Kierland Commons, also in Scottsdale, came next. Fox eventually moved his operations to Phoenix and has, to date, developed 15 restaurant concepts and opened more than 150 restaurants in 18 states, which employ some 7,000 people. In 2019, he sold Fox Restaurant Concepts to the Cheesecake Factory as a wholly owned subsidiary, of which Fox is still in charge. “I did not dream one bit that my career would be like this,” says Fox. “None of this was planned in the beginning, it was not strategic at first. It was all one day at a time.”

Frakes was a bit more traditional in building his business. Born in Tucson and raised in Phoenix, he got his degree in finance from UA. Frakes began his development career with Westcor in 1999 and in 2002, joined Westcor senior partners at WDP Partners. In 2014, he launched his own commercial real estate development company in Phoenix, Common Bond Development Group. To date, he’s been involved in the identification, acquisition, entitlement and management of more than eight million square feet of regional, neighborhood, specialty and power shopping centers in the state, with anchor tenants like Safeway and Sprouts.

One of the first projects Frakes did with Fox was The Yard on 7th Street in Central Phoenix, a sprawling former car and motorcycle dealership where Fox’s Culinary Dropout restaurant took up much of the square footage. Similar Culinary Dropout-anchored projects in downtown Tempe and Gilbert followed, along with other Fox Restaurant Concepts work.

The Global Ambassador, thus far, was the biggest project tackled by Frakes and Fox. “This was an amazing project for both of us,” says Fox. “Brian and I are both the developer and the end user.” Adds Frakes, “We were synched up, conceptualized it, dreamt it and built it. With Sam as the operator, this hotel was designed from the inside out. He knew how it should work operationally.”

Will there be another Global Ambassador? Maybe. “We’re always looking,” says Fox, “but today as we speak, the hotel is only 180 days old, and we are focusing on executing a very high level of hospitality.”

In the meantime, there are more Frakes/Fox projects in the works, including a development in Peoria, a Doughbird and Flower Child restaurant combo in Tucson and The Henry restaurant for Midtown Phoenix locale. The pies keep coming.