Sam Fox bringing The Yard dining entertainment complex to Tucson

Arizona restaurant mogul Sam Fox will bring The Yard, his sprawling entertainment and dining complex, to his hometown of Tucson in 2017 at the old Grant Road Lumber, 2543 E. Grant Road.

It will be his biggest, most ambitious Tucson venture in the 18 years since he launched his restaurant career with the upscale Wildflower on North Oracle Road in 1998. And it will be his first new concept here since opening Blanco Tacos and Zin Burger in 2007.

Fox estimates the project will cost just under the $11 million he invested in The Yard in Tempe at the Farmer Arts District, which opened in late 2014. The Arizona Republic pegged that project as the biggest Fox has ever done.

Fox said he won’t close on the Grant Road property until September, so he’s reluctant to call it a done deal. But he already has begun courting the city’s blessings and has applied for a liquor license for Culinary Dropout, the restaurant at the center of the sprawling 19,000-square-foot complex that will include a covered “yard” with couches, fireplaces, corn hole games, foosball tables and other backyard-style activities. A 150-seat dining room called The Coop, where Fox said they will hold private parties, weddings and corporate events, rounds out the project.

In February, Tucson Planning and Zoning officials signed off on the preliminary design concept and a noise analysis that determined the project will not create an issue with neighbors, according to city documents.

“We’re excited about it,” Fox said. “We love the site, we love the history. It’s my hometown and we get a lot of requests to bring a lot of our concepts to Tucson.”

Grant Road Lumber closed last August after 66 years in business.

Fox is hoping his move to Grant Road will spur a mini-renaissance of the area, which includes two neighboring restaurants: the popular Kingfisher Bar & Grill, which has been a Grant Road mainstay for more than 22 years; and Dante’s Fire Cocktails & Cuisine, which has been around for several years.

Fox said he has witnessed similar renaissances in Tempe and central Phoenix, where he opened his first Yard in a 55,000-square-foot motorcycle garage and dealership in early 2013.

“We have a vision that that whole area gets repurposed, and we hope we can be the genesis to jump-start that,” said Fox, who will incorporate the salvaged bricks and boards from the original structures into the new construction. “We like to find old buildings that have soul and character and repurpose them.”

“I think that already in that area, with Kingfisher and some other great venues, there’s certainly the potential for creating sort of a mini-district that could be a destination for food and entertainment,” said Tucson City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, whose Ward 3 includes that stretch of Grant Road. “Campbell Avenue already has that brand and is building on it. I think that it’s certainly possible.”

Uhlich said she believes a resurgence of the area will be market-driven, but “I can see where (Fox) will see that if he’s successful, other like investments could be drawn to the area,” she said.

“If you look at the stretch of Grant Road from the Country Club area east all the way to Swan, most of those properties are already commercially zoned and have some type of activity,” she said.

Fox anticipates starting construction in September and opening The Yard in September 2017.

The work is being done by Common Bond Development, a company he has with fellow Tucson native Brian Frakes.

In addition to several Fox Restaurant Concept projects over the past couple years, Common Bond developed Chandler’s new pedestrian-friendly retail center The Plant, set to open in the summer with Sprouts as a main anchor.

Culinary Dropout is a chef-driven gastropub with everything from breads and cured meats made in house. The menu includes a charcuterie section of meats and cheeses, meal-sized salads, burgers and entrees that range from house-made meatloaf to 36-hour pork ribs glazed with jalapeño and molasses.

Tucson’s Culinary Dropout will be Fox’s sixth. In addition to three Phoenix-area locations, he has a Culinary Dropout in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and is opening one in the fall in Austin, Texas.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter: @Starburch


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