Foxes Boxes: Mission Marries Menu
As I make my way around Wilmington and the surrounding areas looking for new places to strap on the feed bag and get my “grub on,” I come across a wide variety of foods and eateries. In the ever-growing restaurant landscape that the Port City has become, it’s not hard to find something that will take your taste buds to a happy place and fill your belly. That’s the goal of my wanderings.
But every once in a while in search of a new place to feed my face, I come across a place that feeds my soul. This just happened.
Cruising around downtown last week with no plan, no schedule and no idea of what the heck I was in the mood for, I stumbled upon a cool little joint with a funny name that beckoned me inside. The sign said “Foxes Boxes” and having heard of them in the past, I figured this was a perfect time to try them out. I was not even close to being ready for what was about to happen.
I walked into a super cool venue that could have been a sandwich shop, a hoidy toidy art studio, a boutique or one of a million other things because it’s just THAT cool of a building. But lucky for me, Foxes Boxes calls it home and I’m glad they do. This being my first time, I must have had that “what the heck do I do now” look on my face as I pondered how and what to order. Trying to look cool, I wrestled with what I would get and how the heck this whole “box” concept thing works. I must have looked nowhere as cool as I had hoped for and a very soothing, friendly voice asked if this was my first time there. Sheepishly, I replied that it was. A young lady with a bright smile assured me that she’d walk me through the process and the menu options, and I was taken aback at how friendly, helpful and genuinely sweet she was. She was high school, maybe early college aged, but the manner in which she was doing her job was commensurate with someone far older and established in her career. It certainly was not the behavior or maturity of who I considered to be a young student just doing a summer job until the next school year.
Little did I know that this was far more than a summer gig to make some gas money or to fund a young lady’s wardrobe.
Taking my tour guide’s recommendation for the Korean Kalbi Steak and Rice, I took a seat and took in all that the venue had to offer. Quaint and intimate, yet lively and upbeat, a steady stream of people kept filing into the restored historic building. Business professionals in their suits and dresses, construction crews, a couple moms with their kids on a lunch date, some neighborhood regulars and I all sat down with anticipation for whatever sorcery was being created in the kitchen that filled the open dining room with such amazing smells that the English language cannot adequately describe them.
As Chef Randy Fox meticulously tended to my marinated flank steak prepared in Korean BBQ style with brown sugar, ginger, sesame and soy, his wife Rachel flowed through the dining room checking on everyone, doting over her guests as if they were family members home for the holidays. Just as the flavors of my main dish and my accompanying side dishes complemented one another in my Kalbi “box,” (named for the very cool and unique vessels the meals are served in), Rachel and Randy complement one another as front and back of the house merge into a finely orchestrated experience. So smooth, in fact, that places much bigger and more expensive could certainly learn a thing or two from these Foxes and their boxes. As Rachel and Randy tended to their respective efforts, they were assisted by a few young people, including my newfound smiling friend and menu tour guide, who kept up with every customer and never let a glass go empty or a table go unwiped.
As I savored the vibrant Asian flavors of my Kalbi Steak and the accompanying “almost famous” carrot and ginger salad, I got the chance to chat with Rachel Fox. I commented on the flavors of the meal, which were sublime by the way, but what she told me about Foxes Boxes fed my soul every bit as much as my lunch fed my body.
See, Foxes Boxes isn’t just a restaurant. I mean, yeah it is in that it serves great food and has a loyal following who apparently flock to the place, but Foxes Boxes mission is a source of hope.
Yeah, Foxes Boxes not only serves up a great variety of food, but it serves opportunity for a lot of people who may not have otherwise had the chance to go through an intensive seven-week internship at a functional restaurant, free of charge. For every bit as much of a restaurant that it is, Foxes Boxes is a training ground that gives people a shot at success who may not have had one before. According to their official statement, Foxes Boxes “aims to remove employment barriers for low-income, low-skilled workers by providing workforce development that teaches leadership and interpersonal communication skills, instilling increased confidence and essential job skills, creating a valuable workforce for the hospitality and service industry in the region.”
So what the heck does all that mean? Well, simply put, Rachel and Randy give people a shot, a chance, and some hope. They don’t do handouts or charity, quite the opposite. They teach, mentor and hold their interns accountable as they teach them front and back of the house operations, customer interaction, food safety, money handling and basic kitchen skills. But during the seven-week transformation, Foxes Boxes makes lifelong friends and provides critical insight and instruction so that when their graduates enter the workforce, they are prepared, they’re professional and they’re ready to work. Foxes Boxes has several partners in the area to provide employment opportunities to their graduates and the receiving restaurants get properly trained help that is oh so hard to find.
… what I left with in my heart was something that will last for quite some time
I had a GREAT lunch at Foxes Boxes but what I left with in my heart was something that will last for quite some time. Although “feel good” wasn’t on the menu, I got a huge plate of it when I went there. Rachel and Randy are making a great dining experience at their restaurant but they’re really making a change and they’re making Wilmington a better place.
I’m not sure where my smiling friend who helped me that day ended up going to work after her graduation from the program, but I can tell you one thing… she’ll do well and her new employer will be better off for having her on staff.
If you want a great lunch that will feed your heart and soul as much as your belly, or if you or anyone you know owns a restaurant or other hospitality-based business in need of hard working employees, give Foxes Boxes a call. They’ve got both: Foxes Boxes mission and menu.
Contributing blogger: Ed Walsh grew up in Las Vegas, the son of an accomplished chef. Traipsing all over the world to more than 35 countries during a 21 year Marine Corps career allowed Ed to sample and appreciate all types of food from grass hut family dining to Michelin star rated fine dining restaurants. “I know my way around a dinner plate and I just like what I like,” he says. Asked what his absolute favorite dish from all of his international travels was, Ed quickly says it was his Mom’s spaghetti. Ed is single, and loves long romantic walks to the taco truck. He also loves spending time with awesome food – almost as much as he enjoys spending time with his awesome kids.