By MM Pack
Photography by Whitney Arostegui
Mondays, Aaron Franklin does not smell like smoke. That’s the day that Franklin Barbecue—the ridiculously popular restaurant he owns with his wife Stacy—is closed, and it’s, ostensibly, his day off. In reality, though, it’s what Aaron calls “maintenance day,” and on this particular Monday, he’s got work to do on the roof.
The restaurant’s infrastructure demands lots of tender loving care. Once home to the iconic Ben’s Long Branch Bar-B-Que, it wasn’t in great shape when the Franklins acquired it in 2011 after outgrowing their nearby barbecue trailer.
“I’ve been a handyman for a long time,” says Aaron (he and Stacy have done most of the remodeling and updating themselves). They’re discussing rezoning with the city, which would allow expanding the kitchen and adding a roof over the outside barbecue pits. “Now, when it rains, we get rained on. When it’s cold, we’re cold. Also, we could build new bathrooms!”
The Franklins debuted their tiny barbecue trailer in 2009, and it immediately met with wild success—selling out by lunchtime since opening day, and eliciting praise from the likes of Anthony Bourdain, the New York Times and the Washington Post. In 2011, Bon Appétit magazine declared the two-year-old Franklin the best barbecue in America.
Before going pro, the couple enjoyed throwing backyard parties for their friends. “I got started with a little New Braunfels cooker I bought at Academy for ninety-nine dollars,” Aaron recalls. “And I just got obsessed.”
However, his barbecue roots run deep. When he was an adolescent, Aaron’s family owned a small barbecue joint in Bryan. “Mainly I just hung around, sometimes chopping the onions; I never paid any attention to cooking the meat,” he says. When he moved to Austin, he worked construction and played drums in rock bands and then, for 18 months, he manned the cash register at John Mueller BBQ on Manor Road—absorbing pit technique from a master.
Stacy, who keeps the books and oversees the front of the house, remembers when they first opened the trailer. “While Aaron smoked the meats, I made the sides—including the banana pudding, which was seasoned with my tears. I was cooking on this propane burner and it just would not cooperate,” she says. (Today, the restaurant’s pies are prepared by pastry chef Melissa Brinckmann of Cake and Spoon.)
Because the Franklins spend 12 to 18 hours a day at the restaurant, they aren’t doing too much cooking at home. “Maybe once a week,” says Aaron. “We still grill at the house,” adds Stacy. “Pizza, steaks, burgers…sometimes, I even crave barbecue. [But] we never cook together; our styles are completely different. Before the business, we used to make complicated meals, but only one of us at a time. I like making sauces and I tried re-creating dishes from the restaurants where I waited tables.” Aaron, on the other hand, admits he likes “going really, really deep into one dish—making it over and over ’til it’s the best it can be. I’ve done that with pan gravy, fried chicken and chicken-fried steak.”
Things are about to change in the Franklin household—they’re expecting their first child in November. “We’ve got a little brisket in the smoker,” smiles Aaron. “So, we’re working on ways to keep the restaurant quality up without us being there 24-7.” “When the baby comes,” adds Stacy, “we’re planning on spending more time at home—not day and night at the restaurant. So, after a long time, we’ll be cooking at home again…just not together.”