There once was a time when all businesses were family businesses, where relatives worked together and as a matter of pride gave their customers/neighbors the very best they possibly could provide. There was no anonymous “they” hovering in some other state making decisions in a corporate office that knew nothing of the towns where their stores were placed, and the people running these shops were not only part of the local business world but of the community they served. What a great time that was, before cold, impersonal chains ruled the business world.
Husband and wife Deen and Kelly Fox worked in that corporate world, she in marketing and he for 30 years in the world of big chain restaurants. The hours were long, the cause not their own, and they knew they could do better. Could have better. Could give better. Firm believers in giving back to the community, they take pride in consistently supporting local charities, schools, first responders, sponsoring little league teams, and their very special charity of choice The Mark Wandall Foundation (a non-profit providing support and assistance to grieving children who have lost a family member or guardian).
So they walked away from the corporate safety net and started their own business. And not just any business, but one of the riskiest and most competitive businesses: a restaurant. It was a business they knew and loved but wanted to do their own way, as something that instead of keeping them away from their family would give them something to work on together.
When they found the two Station 400 restaurants on the market they were drawn to the picturesque vintage downtown Sarasota railroad station in which the original was housed, as well as the wealth of possibilities offered by its sister restaurant in the upscale Sarasota/Manatee Lakewood Ranch community. Sticking with the kind of “simple” that’s actually sometimes a rather complicated commitment, they chose what and whom they knew and trusted. Local sourcing for their menu went right down to using local honey, and the downtown general manager who just happened to be the longtime friend who initially introduced them. (Talk about job security!)
After a while they were looking at a mid-Sarasota location on U.S. 41 known as The Landings. The plaza, named for the gracious residential neighborhood it borders and serves, had seen some businesses come and go through the years, and that included a few restaurants. So what made them dare to step into a space just barely cleared of the ghosts of restaurants past?
“It was when it became a Benderson property” Kelly explains simply. “We were acquainted with the Bendersons, and we knew how properties responded to their touch; it was like King Midas, just turning them to gold.”
So they took the leap, transforming the space to a welcoming contemporary French-flavored décor. A model train runs slowly around the walls and past other railroad-related art that keep with the station atmosphere of the original sister restaurant.
The decision to be a 7 a.m.to 2:30 p.m. breakfast, brunch, and lunch room was one designed to allow them and their staff a life outside of work, allowing ample time with family despite being open seven days a week (and an hour or so later in the busy season). In the case of the owners it almost seems unnecessary: son Austin is an assistant manager while son Justin is a server; youngest boy Prestin is only five and has already declared in a “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” school assignment that it’s the restaurant life for him as well. The Landings location managing partner, Kirk Tyree, is a family friend who had worked with Deen at a chain restaurant before they jumped ship to take the restaurant biz to a more personal level.
But no amount of determination, good intention, and dashing decor is enough to make a restaurant a success if the food isn’t exceptional. Having lived in Sarasota since 2002 had given the Foxes ample opportunity to become familiar with the restaurants around town and what they offered. In a field this competitive and a town this saturated with places to eat, you’d have to be very, very good to survive.
And they are.
Station 400 devotees are in love with the Truffles Eggs Benedict and the Fried Green Tomato BLT, but if you’d like to try something different, the Pancake Parlor allows you to choose just one, ranging from Bacon and Salted Caramel to Tiramisu, or plain Buckwheat or Buttermilk. The Mimosa “Craft Concoctions” include: Blood Orange, Hibiscus; Pomegranate Juice; Elderflower, Cucumber, Lemon; Blackberry Bramble; and various seasonal specials. (Check the menu! http://tinyurl.com/y87wkt5a )
No matter what you select from the menu, one thing you’re sure to have at Station 400 is a great time.