- Matthew Odam American-Statesman Staff
A fire that officials say was caused by an ember from a barbecue pit severely damaged part of Austin’s renowned Franklin Barbecue early Saturday. Nobody was injured in the blaze.
James Beard Award-winning pitmaster Aaron Franklin said he received a call at 5:37 a.m. alerting him that his restaurant was on fire. He jumped in his truck and headed to the restaurant he and his wife, Stacy, opened at 900 E. 11th St. in 2011. An employee cooking ribs had first noticed the fire and called 911, Franklin said.
The smokehouse, where the fire originated, was almost completely destroyed, though the pits themselves weren’t damaged. Part of the roof caved in, and the walk-in coolers suffered serious damage.
“Damage is certainly worse than I thought it was going to be,” Franklin said following a walk-through with the Austin Fire Department. “We deal with fire every day. It was inevitable someday something was going to be a problem. I just hope we can get it back together.”
Fire Department officials said the fire was an accident caused by a wind-blown ember from a pit that ignited surrounding combustible materials. The fire is estimated to have caused $200,000 worth of structural damage and $150,000 worth of content damage.
The fire was contained to the room that houses the smokers; the restaurant’s kitchen and dining room only suffered smoke damage.
“There was not as much property loss as most restaurants would have,” Franklin said.
There is arguably no other restaurant name as synonymous with the city of Austin as Franklin Barbecue. What started as a trailer off the Interstate 35 access road in 2009 has grown into one of the city’s great tourist attractions and a bucket-list item for barbecue lovers from Texas and around the world. Lines regularly start forming three hours before the restaurant opens, and in 2016 Franklin became the first barbecue cook to ever win the prestigious James Beard award for best chef.
Franklin said he assumes the entire frame of the smokehouse will have to be torn down and rebuilt.
“I kind of had a game plan to get us back open, but going inside kind of crushed that,” Franklin said.
Franklin said he still hopes they will be able to reopen in a few weeks, but they will have to wait for the rain to cease before a full analysis can be done.
“It’s odd for me to not be cheerful,” Franklin said. “I got some thoughts going on for sure. I’m not so upset about what’s already happened; I am more looking toward what we’re going to do going forward.”