Final pieces of historic Austin restaurant chain on auction block

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Longtime customers and fans of the historic Frisco Shop are competing to own a piece of the restaurant.

An auction house is selling off everything from old menus (advertising filet mignon for 60 cents) and other memorabilia to commercial kitchen equipment after the owners closed the restaurant this summer. There’s still time to bid at this link; the online-only auction starts closing at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11. Lots will close in order, so it will take several hours for bidding to close on all 196 items.

Monday, the second of two preview days, brought bidders to the restaurant to look through stacks of burger baskets, old photos and wall art, tables and chairs, and various cooking supplies.

“I wish they were open, I’d eat,” Sam Clark laughed. “That’s the bad news, found out too late.”

Clark drove in from La Grange to look around at the memorabilia. His family is deeply rooted in Austin, and he has fond memories of his parents taking him to the Frisco when he was a child. “I want to hold onto something,” he said. “I just don’t know what yet.”

The Frisco was the last remaining restaurant in the Night Hawk chain started in Austin in 1932. Harry Akin, who would go on to become mayor, founded the chain, expanding it to seven stores across three cities at its peak. The Frisco opened in 1953, and kept serving their signature top chopt steaks and fresh pies through multiple moves.

The current owner, Akin’s nephew, also named Harry Akin, bought the Frisco in 1994, but the cost of doing business at their Burnet Road location and several other factors forced him to close the restaurant at the end of July.

“The outpouring of affection when we announced our closing was really almost overwhelming,” he told KXAN at the restaurant Monday.

During their final week of operation, they always had a wait, he said, the shortest being about 45 minutes in the middle of a weekday afternoon. Other times the line stretched around the building as generations of customers came back for one last meal.

The day they closed, Akin said, “we actually had people in here competing to see who could be the last customer, who could place the last order.”

The selloff and the eventual final departure will be emotional, he said, but nothing can compare to that day.

“It really was a painful experience, but it was also wonderful to experience all the love that we did,” he said, his voice catching.

Even during the auction process, the love shone through. Scott Swenson, president of Jones Swenson Auctions, was a regular at the Frisco. Monday, as his company monitored all the lots people were coming to look at, he was asking Akin for the chopt steak butter sauce recipe.

“We try to treat all of our clients as family,” he said, “but this is a little bit closer to home for us.”

The closure hit another Austin restaurateur hard. Hoover Alexander, the chef behind Hoover’s Cooking in east Austin, got his start in the Night Hawk chain, learning everything about the food service industry along the way.

He stopped by the Frisco Monday to look through the memorabilia he was hoping to win. “This needs to be something never forgotten by Austin.”

Alexander, who compared the Frisco’s closure to “a death in the family,” plans to dedicate the small dining room of his east Austin southern comfort food restaurant to the Frisco. He wants people to remember the history, not just of the restaurants, but of the man who founded them.

Akin “hired women and minorities before it was politically correct to do so,” the Frisco’s still-active website states. “In the turbulent civil rights era, he was the first Austin restaurateur to integrate his restaurants.”

In addition to memorabilia he hopes to acquire, Alexander said, he’s considering hosting a regular Frisco night, featuring recipes from the restaurant. 

“I feel like I’m the torch-bearer to kind of keep it moving forward,” he said.

After 65 years of serving Austinites, the Frisco won’t be forgotten by those who loved it. Akin is considering publishing a cookbook with some of their most popular recipes to keep the Frisco in people’s stomachs in addition to their hearts, but regardless of what happens next, he said, it’s been a good ride.

“We go out with sadness, but also with gratitude.”

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