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Exclusive: Aaron Franklin announces reopening plans, date for Franklin Barbecue

Matthew Odam
Austin 360

If you've missed standing in line with gregarious strangers at Franklin Barbecue as you wait to dig into some of the world's best brisket (the turkey and ribs are nothing to sniff at, either), or if you've just missed the chance to scoff at those barbecue pilgrims who do, there's good news. Franklin Barbecue will reopen for normal (read: pre-pandemic) dine-in operations on Sept. 1. 

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Owner Aaron Franklin has been operating with curbside only at Franklin Barbecue since the early days of the pandemic. He's making plans to reopen the dining room, which will mean the return of the iconic line.

Aaron and Stacy Franklin quickly shifted operations at their East 11th Street restaurant in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit Austin, moving to curbside-only service with online ordering, and later adding nationwide shipping through Goldbelly. Those services will continue as the restaurant's trademark lines return following the staff's annual summer vacation at the end of August. 

Aaron Franklin talked about reopening plans and all things related to Franklin Barbecue in an Instagram Live interview with the American-Statesman on June 2. 

Franklin — who says concerns for staff safety and the inability to socially distance in the restaurant's small 37-seat indoor dining room led to the decision to keep the restaurant closed — acknowledges Franklin Barbecue will likely be one of the last restaurants to fully reopen. But when it does, Franklin says he'll be ready to get back to the more personal side of the hospitality business. 

"It might be a little weird at first," Franklin said of greeting customers in person once again, "but I can't wait to start giving out some hugs and high-fives. The amount of love and goodwill that happens out in this hot parking lot is pretty magical, and I think we all really miss it."

Here's our conversation with Franklin, edited for length and clarity.

American-Statesman: When you reopen on Sept. 1, in terms of hours and menu and service model, is it going to look just like it did in February of 2020?

Franklin: Yep, same as it ever was. We’ve got a couple of things — maybe looking to add a sauce or two, just for fun, I’ve been working on that during the pandemic. We’ve got some some cool stuff, some sauces and seasonings that we’re doing through the barbecue pits, because during the pandemic we’ve been working pretty hard on the pit side of things. So I think we’ll introduce some of those things to the restaurant and maybe some new fun stuff.

You started shipping your pits last spring. What’s the waitlist on something like that look like? 

It’s pretty long. We’re doing some really cool stuff, bumping up our production pretty hardcore. I think our production is going to go from about 10 pits a week to about 50-60 pits a week in the next six months. The goal is to eventually not have much of a waitlist at all. 

I just heard that you guys have co-branded a grill with PK Grills, which has been around for about 70 years. They make this cool, retro-looking, cast aluminum pit. What’s that all about?

It’s been no secret over the years that a PK Grill is just my favorite grill ever. Love 'em. Cast out of aluminum. They never rust. Started out of Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1952, and I’m kind of a nut for vintage stuff. I like the aesthetic of all that kind of stuff. Over the years, kind of like anything, being a tinkerer, I thought, “Sure would be nice to have a shelf here. Sure would like to have something to hang my tongs from here. A rack would be neat here. Ooh, my back hurts, this could get a little higher.” So, over the years, we decided we should just build a grill, so we’re doing it. It’s called a PK AF. It’s coming out by the end of summer. You can get them on our website or the PK website. 

I’ve seen PK Grills out at your Hot Luck Fest over the last several years. The last two festivals have been canceled due to the coronavirus. What does the future of Hot Luck look like?

The future of Hot Luck is that it’s totally happening next year. Starting to get into a little pre-production stuff, getting some chef invites out. We’re right on schedule for 2022. 

The taco trailer that you had out back at Franklin Barbecue, what’s the future of it?

Well, that taco trailer is parked at the welding shop right now, and I don’t think it’s coming back. It sure was a lot of work, and right now it’s so hard to staff things. I think for now, we’re just gonna not mess with it. It might come back as a coffee trailer at some point, but I don’t think the tacos are coming back. But, darn it, they were good. 

The lines at Franklin Barbecue came to a halt on March 15, 2020. They'll return Sept. 1, as the restaurant owned by Stacy and Aaron Franklin reopens its dining room and patio.

Seems like so many barbecue places are throwing a burger on the menu now. Is there ever going to be a Franklin Burger on the menu?

Nope. I’m afraid not. There’s just no room left on those cookers. 

People always want to know if there’s ever going to be expansion or other locations. Is that still a never-gonna-happen scenario?

Yeah, that is a hard no. We struggle to keep this place half as good as we want it. I can’t imagine having two barbecue restaurants. I don’t think we could raise enough cows. I don't think that the impact is worth it. It’s too hard. This is a one-and-done kind of concept. We pour our heart and souls into this place. It would just change it. It would change the dynamic of everything if we had another one. Not to say we won’t do something else with a different kind of food one day, maybe like gumbo or po’boys or something. But not gonna be barbecue. 

Gumbo and po’ boys might be on the horizon over there at Uptown Sports Club, is that right? (Uptown Sports Club is a bar in which Franklin is a partner that is set to open next year on East Sixth Street.)

For sure. And there will be a good bit of Franklin crossover at that place. It won’t be barbecue, but brisket boudin will be on the menu. I think there will be some light steak action or maybe a burger or some stuff like that — not for Franklin Barbecue — but fortunately we get some really good meats over here (at Franklin), so that’s going to help out Uptown quite a bit.