Commentary: Pies and politics. Eating at the Frisco in Austin’s 1970s

On Sunday, the Frisco on Burnet Road closed. My family and I ate at this venerable Austin restaurant for the last time two days before it closed. Seems like every one of a certain age in Central Austin had the same idea. The wait was about an hour, with many customers having to stand by the cash register until host Darrell Webber guided them back to a table.

I didn’t grow up in Austin, but throughout the 1970s, my dad would regularly drive our blue Chevy Impala the 900 miles or so from eastern Colorado to Texas to see family here in Austin.

No visit to Austin was complete without a visit to the Frisco. All of us— the “Colorado Taylors” and the “Texas Taylors” — would sit together at one of those big booths on the north end of the restaurant and have a Famous Frisco burger—shredded lettuce, American cheese, sweet and tangy relish, Thousand Island dressing, all served on a toasted bun, wrapped in paper. Of course, there was always room for one of the homemade pies from the glass case up by the register. Just pick one: pecan, lemon meringue or buttermilk.

READ: After 65 years, the Frisco will close up shop on Burnet Road.

As a kid, I remember thinking the Night Hawk was a curious place: integrated, yet, segregated at the same time. The cooks in the kitchen were all black men. The tables were all bussed by young Hispanic men. The waitresses were all white women with big hair. When waitresses would “hon” everyone at the table, I felt like I was really in Texas — in more ways than one.

As soon as the orders were placed, my dad would start in on his own stories of the Night Hawk Frisco restaurant. In college, back in the 1940s, my dad used to drive an Austin city bus. He would always tell of his late-night routes up and down Congress Avenue when he would stop at the Night Hawk, just south of the river on Riverside Drive, and eat a burger. I never understood how he could keep the bus running on time or the bus riders waiting! But that was the story that was told, over and over every time we ate at the Night Hawk.

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Years later, in 1991, the Colorado Taylors had moved to Austin. My dad asked that we go back to the Night Hawk one last time. His brain tumor started to make itself known. Requests like these, often involving food, were honored with pleasure. Like always, he talked about those late-night bus routes along Congress and the quick burger stops. I remember the nice young Hispanic busboy who helped me hold my dad steady out of the restaurant and all the way back to the car. The Frisco was at its old location at Burnet and Koenig streets.

Anthropologists define nostalgia as a “yearning for what is now unattainable, simply because of the irreversibility of time.” To me, the closing of the Frisco means losing the place of my youth, vacations, my dad, my dad’s stories and “back in the day” Austin. By today’s standards, the 1970s employment division in the restaurant seems rather anachronistic, though it was Harry Akin, the founder of the Night Hawk, who first integrated restaurants in Austin.

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Others with history in Austin have their own reason why the closing of the Frisco is significant. We all have our own layers upon layers of stories about friends and family tightly woven together with memories of good food and Austin as it once was. The irreversibility of time is so painful, which is why the stories we tell ourselves endure.

To the Akin family: It was a good run — 65 years. We thank you.

Taylor is a consumer research consultant based in Austin.

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