Franklin Barbecue is currently closed, but despite rumors, not for good. Aaron and Stacy Franklin shut the doors at their popular Austin barbecue joint from July 30 to August 9, as they do annually so the full staff can take a vacation. The couple landed in Portland, Oregon on Sunday night, and as he waited at the rental car counter, Aaron Franklin got a few worried texts asking if he was closing what is probably the most famous barbecue joint in America.
“No. Absolutely not,” Franklin told me over the phone while he watched his daughter on a playground during the family’s full day of vacation. He had listened to portions of the latest episode of the Tales From the Pits barbecue podcast that speculated on the closure, based on rumors and recent changes at Franklin Barbecue. (The episode, published on Sunday, was taken down on Monday, and hosts Bryan Norton and Andrew Martinez issued an apology.) “We firmly believe that Franklin Barbecue as we know it is undergoing a major change, and in the not too distant future may not be owned and operated by Aaron and Stacy Franklin,” said the tease for the episode. “That’s some real TMZ stuff,” Franklin said of the assertions.
The speculation set barbecue Twitter ablaze late Sunday night. As I got concerned messages about the future of Franklin Barbecue on Monday morning, I went to the man himself. “Why in the world would we shut down the one thing that’s made everything else possible?” Franklin asked, explaining that the joint wasn’t shutting down anytime soon.
In fact, Franklin Barbecue is expanding its offerings. “By the end of the year, we’re opening up a taco trailer outside of Franklin,” he said. The 1971 Airstream trailer, which won’t have a name of its own (presumably to keep it grouped with the barbecue joint on Yelp and aggregation sites), will serve breakfast tacos and coffee for folks waiting to get their taste of Franklin brisket. (Yes, it’s an entire concept built for jokes about the line.)
There’s also a new Franklin book coming in March 2019, which is already Amazon’s #1 new release in barbecue books—even before the title is set. Franklin has already published the wildly successful Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, and this sophomore effort will focus on steak. “The be-all, end-all guide to cooking the perfect steak–from buying top-notch beef, seasoning to perfection, and finding or building the ideal cooking vessel,” reads the online description.
Franklin Barbecue has seen some staff changes recently, although that doesn’t mean the joint is shutting down. Benji Jacob, whose smiling face often greeted customers as he worked the Franklin line, left the joint to pursue a career outside of barbecue late June, around when one-time Franklin brisket whisperer Braun Hughes left his position of kitchen manager to work on the north side of town at Stiles Switch. When I stopped by in early July, Hughes said he was focused on the brisket at Stiles Switch, and didn’t offer much about why he left. Aaron Franklin didn’t either, but did explain that the kitchen manager duties are now the responsibility of six-year Franklin veteran Andy Risner.
Brothers Matt and Caleb Johnson, who previously ran the Franklin welding shop, have started Mill Scale, a pit building business in Lockhart. The shop opened three weeks ago and already has orders from Europe for barbecue pits. The Johnson brothers had been pegged to build the backyard smokers—the Elon Musk of barbecue pits—that Aaron Franklin has promised for a couple years, and their departure led some people on the comically long waiting list to assume they’d never get the chance to buy one of the backyard pits. Not so, says Franklin. “Everything is still moving ahead on that front,” he said. “I just got the last round of all the branding and logos back last week.”
The pits will be built in a new warehouse on the south side of Austin, but permitting for the site and the building has been a drawn-out process over the past three years. “They [the city of Austin] treated us like a Home Depot,” Franklin said, explaining that they had to build water detention ponds before they could even get a demolition permit for the building currently on site. “Today we’re demoing the old building on the lot,” he told me on Monday, and they expect to have the foundation completed for the 7,000-square-foot space in two months, when they’ll hire a crew of welders to start fulfilling the backyard smoker orders.
Franklin has had enough fires—both the blaze last August that required building a new pit room and a similar scare last week when a roof duct fire, likely started by a stray ember that snuck through the vent hood, shut down Loro, the restaurant which Franklin co-founded with Tyson Cole, for two days—without a figurative fire flaring up from a podcast episode. He was happy to put the rumors to rest, but wouldn’t ‘fess up to one detail revealed in the now-infamous “lost” episode. What about that permit for a building on Sixth Street in Austin, which the Tales From the Pits hosts connected to Franklin? “We’ve got something fun up our sleeve,” he said, “but we can’t say what just yet.”