Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior With Mike Sarraille is a new podcast that inspires individuals to live more fulfilling lives by having conversations with disrupters and high performers in all walks of life. In our tenth episode, we talked to Aaron Franklin, owner and chief firestarter at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue. He’s largely regarded as one of the most impactful pitmasters in the U.S. and received the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2015.

Listen to the full episode above (scroll down for the transcript) and see more from this series below.

This interview has not been edited for length or clarity.


Mike Sarraille:
And welcome back to the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior podcast. I’m your host, Mike Sarraille. I’m joined by Austin royalty, is that-

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, I don’t know if I’d go that far. Some guy that drives a truck and builds fires.

Mike Sarraille:
I think I have the liberty to say that. Austin royalty Aaron Franklin, who is well known for Franklin Barbecue. I mean, you are one of the most influential, these are from research, not my words, one of the most influential pitmasters in the history of barbecue. That’s huge.

Aaron Franklin:
Making me feel very uncomfortable.

Mike Sarraille:
Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, that’s the point, that’s my job. I’m a little disappointed you didn’t bring barbecue.

Aaron Franklin:
Well, we ran out a couple hours ago. That’s why my voice is scratchy because we had so many people and I talked to all of them and then we ran out of food.

Mike Sarraille:
So this is from our research, it says you have reportedly sold out of brisket every single day since the restaurant opened.

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, that’s about right. But, really, if you think about when we opened I was only making two briskets a day and really that was in case one of them turned out terrible. We were maybe only serving 10 because we were in a trailer on the side of a road. But technically, yes, that is true.

Mike Sarraille:
Oh, we’re going to get to the side of the road. So I’ve got to ask-

Aaron Franklin:
This things in the gutter already.

Mike Sarraille:
When you’re invited to parties people are like, “Oh, hey, my buddy Aaron Franklin is coming, he’s awesome. Franklin Barbecue, world famous.” And then you show up without barbecue and people are like, “Oh.”

Aaron Franklin:
Well, that’s interesting because usually people are like, “Who? Nah.” And the other side of that is I just don’t go to parties. I fall asleep at my recliner at about, I don’t know, 9:15, 9:30 every night. You’re lucky to have me out tonight, I mean, it’s late. What is it? 6:08 PM? Woo.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah, it’s past… Well, nothing good happens after, this is my wife and I, nothing good happens after 8:00 PM.

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, but everything awesome happens after 10.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah.

Aaron Franklin:
No, no, no, not really.

Mike Sarraille:
Well, there’s a certain stage in your life where I think you give that up or you don’t. I mean, we are in a city, Austin, of Peter Pans. I know you’ve probably heard that.

Aaron Franklin:
Absolutely.

Mike Sarraille:
My days when I came to Austin, when I came to Austin in 2015, freshly divorced, somebody introduced me to Tinder and Bumble and it was game on. But for those two years I was going to the bars religiously, you just saw the same people over and over.

Aaron Franklin:
Every day.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah.

Aaron Franklin:
Every night.

Mike Sarraille:
It got old. So Aaron, we’re going to go back to the start because this is a interesting story. You don’t want to hear it but you are absolutely the definition of a warrior within your respective profession. You’ve honed your craft and I know that is thousands upon thousands of hours getting good at what you do.

Aaron Franklin:
Well, thank you.

Mike Sarraille:
So Bryan, Texas? You were born Bryan, Texas.

Aaron Franklin:
It’s true. I was, I was, December 17th, 1977 at 8:42 PM.

Mike Sarraille:
I was November 11th, 1977.

Aaron Franklin:
[inaudible].

Mike Sarraille:
So both 44.

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. That is true, who we are old indeed.

Mike Sarraille:
You’re looking a lot better than I am for the age.

Aaron Franklin:
No, no, no.

Mike Sarraille:
Dude. What was it like growing up in Bryan, Texas?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, it wasn’t my favorite place to be.

Mike Sarraille:
Really, it wasn’t?

Aaron Franklin:
It was not. You can’t really help where you grow up. But I had a good time there, I guess. I mean, I’d started collecting furniture when I was about 12 getting ready to move. But I also had the luxury to grow up in a restaurant that my parents ran for a couple of years. Yep, it was a barbecue place. It was. And then my grandparents owned a record store that they bought at 1982. So I spent most of my years in a record store, selling records, fixing cassette tapes. They had cassettes back then.

Mike Sarraille:
I don’t know these cassette tapes that you speak of.

Aaron Franklin:
Spinning records behind the counter, doing in-stores. Yeah, what is this magnetic tape thing? But it turned into a music store later, like a guitar shop, in 89. And I started doing guitar amp repair and started giving guitar lessons about that time. So my first full-time job was when I was 12, really, hence buying a microwave when I was like 12.

Mike Sarraille:
So are you still a guitar player?

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, I am.

Mike Sarraille:
Is that a passion?

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I would say that.

Mike Sarraille:
Do you jam?

Aaron Franklin:
I do, I actually have a band.

Mike Sarraille:
Do you dress like-

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. Yeah. I sit on the couch every morning, now that I don’t work 120 hour weeks I get to have coffee at home before I take the kid to school so I’d usually just sit on the couch and noodle around, but I do have a band and stuff too.

Mike Sarraille:
You just said 120 hour weeks, is that an exaggeration or is that the God’s honest truth?

Aaron Franklin:
No, that’s dead on for back in the day.

Mike Sarraille:
All right, we’re going to get there. First off, I’ve got to talk about Bryan. So I’m a California kid born and raised in the bay area then joined the Marine Corps after high school and was stationed in San Diego. And the Marine Corps said at one point, this is before 9/11, said, “Hey, you’re doing a half decent job in the Marine Corps. You’ve only had two alcohol related incidents. We think you’re officer material.” It was slim pickings back in the late nineties.

Aaron Franklin:
“We require four at least.”

Mike Sarraille:
They said, “Hey, would you be interested in becoming an officer?” And at the time nothing was going on and all my peers that had had more time than the Marine Corps, they’re like, “Dude, if they’re going to pay for it go to school.” And they sent me to Texas A&M you know, the internet is not raging.

Aaron Franklin:
So what was that? The late nineties?

Mike Sarraille:
Well, by this point it was ’99 that it was selected. So yeah, 2000 happened, Y2K.

Aaron Franklin:
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. But why?

Mike Sarraille:
And so again, I don’t have the money to go visit, I’m a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. And so I fly out to Texas A&M and as I’m flying in it was the most humbling experience.

Aaron Franklin:
That’s a huge culture shock coming from SF.

Mike Sarraille:
Well, it was San Diego.

Aaron Franklin:
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Even more.

Mike Sarraille:
And I phoned my mom crying, which is embarrassing considering I’m in the Marine Corps, and said, “Hey, this is not what I thought.”

Aaron Franklin:
I’m kind of locked into this thing now.

Mike Sarraille:
[inaudible] on the Marine Corps or on the internet. Basically the guidance I got was, “If you’re getting free education, don’t call me to cry on my shoulder. If you don’t like it, finish earlier.” I finished in three years, got the hell out of there.”

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. I mean, the pretty much the day after I turned 18, I’m pretty sure I reserved the U-Haul when I was like 14. Sorry, mom and dad, I just really wanted to go do something.

Mike Sarraille:
It served its purpose, I was thankful. I think the Aggies are a weird culture, and you got to be careful here, we’re in Texas. I’m not going to put words in your mouth, I will.

Aaron Franklin:
Well everybody’s different, everybody’s got what they’re into, and that’s okay.

Mike Sarraille:
Yes, it is.

Aaron Franklin:
That’s what makes things exciting. That’s what makes people good at things, they have different interests. All good.

Mike Sarraille:
And that’s the beauty of it. I remember my first time that I knew I was in a different culture is I was in my Marine uniform and I walked on the grass and somebody just yelled at me like I had just hit an old lady. And they did it in a way that was just so embarrassing to me because everyone stopped and was looking at me.

Aaron Franklin:
Oh, it’s a thing.

Mike Sarraille:
It’s a cult. I mean the Aggie network, it’s strong and proud to come from it.

Aaron Franklin:
It truly is.

Mike Sarraille:
It is a cult-like environment. So 18, you leave Dodge. Where do you go?

Aaron Franklin:
I pretty much head straight to Austin. At that point I’d been playing music forever, grew up in a music store, played guitar, played drums, played drums in some bands. And yeah, I mean, I was at a show probably in like the ’95, I guess, I was here seeing a show at Liberty Lunch with some friends. And I remember sitting out there and looking at like the old Norwest tower, like, “God, this place is cool.” And somebody like hits me on the arm like, “Hey, you want to hit this?” I’m like, “Oh no, no, no. I’m okay but thank you very much. It’s very kind of you.” And I didn’t and I don’t. And then a few minutes later, she was like, “Hey, you want a beer?” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I’ll have a beer. Sure.” And I was like, “God, these people are so nice, what the heck is going on around here?” Because where I’m from, people were like, “You look funny.” You know? So really, I was like, “Man,” I was just blown away. I was like, “People are just so friendly here.”

Mike Sarraille:
You fell in love, you fell in love with Austin.

Aaron Franklin:
Yep. And they still are so friendly here and that’s really what I love about Austin. That’s why I’ve stayed here ever since. I moved here in 1996 and yeah, I mean, I’ve had like 5,000 different jobs over the years. I cannot get fired from Franklin Barbecue, I’ve been trying for like 12 years now. I keep getting written up they just-

Mike Sarraille:
Horrible ownership is what I’ve heard.

Aaron Franklin:
Oh yeah, terrible. That guy’s such a jerk. But yeah, just played music and just hung out in Austin, didn’t really do much. I knew I wanted to do something I just hadn’t quite figured out what it was yet. In about 2002 I think it started, I bought a little backyard. Cooked a brisket was like, “Oh, this is kind of fun. I like this.”

Mike Sarraille:
Let’s step back. So your parents owned a barbecue restaurant?

Aaron Franklin:
They did. They had a place in Bryan, oh gosh, for probably about two or three years, I guess. And I was like 11 or 12 or something like that. Thought it was the coolest place in the world, it was kind of like old Smitty’s style, like with the fire on the floor, brick pit and everything smelled like old grease, had grease fires, put them out. It was a real east Texas kind of barbecue joint, real simple. But my dad cooked everything, my mom waited the tables, worked up front and I did prep in the back. And then I worked all the lunches, I was scooping potato salad and they did a weird thing there, I don’t think anyone does this now, I think it’s an east Texas thing, but they would do Texas toast on a flat top. So I worked the plancha when I was like 12-ish and just loved it. I mean, I would be back there for hours, just cutting lemons and onions and making sauces and doing all this stuff. And I was like, “Ah, this is just the coolest thing ever.”
And of course not realizing how hard it was for them because it was really… At one point they hired one other person, it was just a lunchtime spot. But it was pretty much my mom, my dad, myself, and maybe one other person that was probably a little less skillful than me. And I didn’t realize how hard it was, I mean it’s like when somebody becomes president they look like they’re 25 and then when they come out they look 104, it was kind of like that. My parents sold that place, I was like, “Oh my God.”

Mike Sarraille:
Aged them.

Aaron Franklin:
“You guys are old. Ha, sucks to be you. Man, bye.”

Mike Sarraille:
So you got a crash course in owning a restaurant?

Aaron Franklin:
I did. But I didn’t realize how much work they were really putting into it. I kind of realized what kind of toll it took on the family but I was older and it didn’t really matter and stuff. My standards were really low. But skip ahead many, many years when I fired up that first brisket, I’m like, “Oh, well this is nostalgic, this is fun. Ah, I remember.” It just brought back so many memories of the fire and just sitting out there. And, there was no barbecue scene back then you have to remember, I mean this is like 2002, all this stuff we know didn’t exist.

Mike Sarraille:
Here in Austin.

Aaron Franklin:
Here in Texas, you had Smitty’s, you had Kreuz’s, we had Ruby’s barbecue here in town, you had Louis Millers out in Taylor. But the scene like a thousand barbecue places and the people actually seek it out, it didn’t exist. So it was really like some subculture kind of stuff, which is generally kind of where I lie anyway. Going to shows, being in bands, doing this weird barbecue thing that no one’s ever heard of. “Ah, I don’t want to go to culinary school, I’ll figure it out myself,” kind of thing. But I just got so excited and then at that point, I mean, I remember the first night cooking a brisket in the backyard, drinking a beer and just being like, “Man, I want to open a restaurant one day. This is cool, man.”

Mike Sarraille:
And that’s literally how easy that happened?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, that’s how easily I decided that I think that’s what I wanted to do. And then, so I started kind of formulating a plan in my head, Stacy, my now wife and partner in crime on Franklin, my better half needless to say.

Mike Sarraille:
They usually are.

Aaron Franklin:
What’s that?

Mike Sarraille:
I said they usually are. They usually are [inaudible].

Aaron Franklin:
Abso-fricken-lutely. So we had just gotten our first apartment together back in ’02 and that’s why I went and bought that little barbecue pit. So I just remember being like, “Okay,” I was kind of starting to like play… It’s kind of like the beginning of Game of Thrones where all the little pieces are starting to move around, that’s what my head usually looks like inside, besides the hamster wheel that’s going on. So I started plotting a plan about pretty much that night.

Mike Sarraille:
So you and Stacy are married at this point?

Aaron Franklin:
We are indeed. Yes.

Mike Sarraille:
So when did you meet Stacy?

Aaron Franklin:
I’m at her at a bar about two blocks that way.

Mike Sarraille:
On West Six?

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah.

Mike Sarraille:
Love at first sight?

Aaron Franklin:
Oh, absolutely. She has been my best friend since the first time.

Mike Sarraille:
Whoa, hold on. Because this is so rare that people meet at bars because usually it’s electronically now. You saw her at a bar?

Aaron Franklin:
Oh no. This was like, we had Zach Morris phones back then. We had Zach Morris telephones back then. Like JR Ewing in the back of the thing.

Mike Sarraille:
Did you have the balls to go up to her or did she-

Aaron Franklin:
No. So what it was is my roommate was dating her roommate.

Mike Sarraille:
There you go.

Aaron Franklin:
And she had just moved to town and was like, “Hey, you need to meet this girl, she seems real cool.” And of course I was playing at bands and touring a fair bit then, right around that time and stuff. And so I was standing on the corner, I was watching a show, standing on the corner eating a slice of Roppolo’s on like seventh and red river and this big white band van pulls up. It’s my roommate, he’s like, “Dude, get in the van.” I’m like, “No, where are you going?” He’s like, “Get in the van.” It’s like, “I’m eating a pizza. I’m going to the show.” “Get in the van, we’re going to so and so to meet so and so.” I was like, “Oh, yeah, yeah. Okay, I’ll get in the van.” 10 minutes later, we just sat there all night talking. And then we’ve hung out together pretty much every day ever since.

Mike Sarraille:
And you have one daughter, is that correct?

Aaron Franklin:
We have one kiddo. Her name’s Viv and she is eight.

Mike Sarraille:
Eight. How’s that going for you?

Aaron Franklin:
She’s the coolest person I’ve ever known besides Stacy.

Mike Sarraille:
So have y’all already discussed with her what she wants to be?

Aaron Franklin:
She wants to be all kinds of stuff. She wants to be the president one day and I think she can be. She wants to run a restaurant, she wants to be an astronaut, all kinds of stuff. So I think she’s going to be okay, all signs point to her doing pretty okay.

Mike Sarraille:
High aspirations. I love it. I love it. So you get the cooker, you think, “Hey, I want to do this.” Now, was it based off the fact that you had fun? Were people actually eating what you cooked and they’re like, “Dude, you got to do this for a living.”

Aaron Franklin:
Oh no, no, no. What I cooked was a raging POS. I mean, it was terrible. And I’m not talking about a point of sale system. No, I mean, everybody was like, “Yeah, it’s really good, it’s really good.” But things were different then. I mean our standard of barbecue, and that wasn’t that long ago, but back then was like the really thin sliced, pretty tough flat on a brisket with the flat sliced off and cut upside down, that was real normal. Everybody was like, “Yeah, this is good stuff, this is good.” I was like, “Yeah, it is pretty good, you’re right.” I had no idea. I had no idea the trajectory that I would end up taking.

Mike Sarraille:
Give me the evolution. So you had that moment, where does John Mueller come into play?

Aaron Franklin:
Oh, I worked there scooping sides for a year until I-

Mike Sarraille:
Before this or after?

Aaron Franklin:
No, no, no, no, no. So I did that brisket and I was really… I don’t even think I told Stacy. I was like, “Ah, man, this was cool.” Like I’ve got this just strange calling for this. I couldn’t really explain it, it was like something just really struck a chord with me. No music pun intended. But yeah, so I kept kind of like lay in bed at night and just think about stuff like, “Ah, yeah, this is how I could do this.” Like old fifties vacuum cleaner salesman kind of guys like, “Ah, what’s it going to take to get you into this toaster oven today? Yeah, see?” So in my head it was formulating how to build a restaurant out of absolutely nothing. Mind you, we had absolutely nothing. It’s not that I was lazy, it’s just I didn’t really make a good employee for anyone. I think I was kind of destined to work for myself. I looked terrible on paper. If Franklin barbecue went out of business right now I probably couldn’t get a job at Subway.

Mike Sarraille:
So you’re lying in bed next to your wife thinking about barbecue?

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. And so I did another brisket and I just started practicing in the backyard. Be like, “Hey, we’re going to do brisket on Sunday, you guys come over.” You know? And then it became, we started doing quite a few of them and we started having backyard barbecues over quite a few years.

Mike Sarraille:
Focus groups.

Aaron Franklin:
What’s that?

Mike Sarraille:
Basically focus groups.

Aaron Franklin:
Oh no, just fun, backyard, you’re like, “Hey, we’re making food on Sunday, bring a sixer, let’s hang out.” And before we knew it a lot of people were really starting to show up and it kind of became a thing. So somewhere in that area, maybe 2003-ish, 2004-ish, somewhere in there, I already had two other jobs and I wanted to take another job and I wanted to work at a real barbecue place. But the problem was there weren’t any real barbecue places to be had in Austin. We had Ruby’s that cooked on a real fire. And when I say… No, not Rudy’s, Ruby’s, they might have been closed by the time you moved here, actually.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay.

Aaron Franklin:
But that was a super legit barbecue joint that was on 29th and Guadalupe back in the day. I don’t know what’s there now, they tore it down and-

Mike Sarraille:
Probably a high rise.

Aaron Franklin:
Probably. But it was a real fire. And so that was my criteria, is that I had to work at a restaurant that didn’t use an oven because that’s what everybody used back then, they had gas fired rotisseries. So you throw a log in like a Southern pride or an old Hickory or something like that and that’s all the barbecue that people were used to. And there was one guy, and I hadn’t been out to Taylor yet, I’d never heard of Louis Miller or Lockhart stuff or anything. So I got a job at this guy’s restaurant named John Mueller, or as he pronounced it, Mueller, but John Mueller, just so we all know what we’re talking about.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. What everybody-

Aaron Franklin:
I don’t know. I don’t know what the proper pronunciation is. I’m just going to say it like it’s spelled. Anyway, so I go in there and ask for a job because he used real fires. I didn’t know anything about the place, didn’t know who he was, no clue, didn’t know his lineage or anything. So went in there was like, “Hey, I love barbecue, I really want to work here.” He was like, “Get lost kid.” I was like, “Okay, Hey, but I really want to work here.” He was like, “Get out of here,” he was super rude. I was like, “All right.” So I left, a couple days later I go back to there, I was like, “Hey man, I want a job. Let me do something.” He’s like, “Gah, there’s nothing for you to do. Got any experience?” “No.” “Get out of here.” I was like, “Don’t you tell me what I can’t do.” Because I’m a little bit like that, if you tell me I can’t do something or like, “You’ll never figure that out,” I’m like, “Oh man, shots fired, dude. I’m figuring that out.”
So I probably went in like three, four or five times. And finally I was like, “Hey, look man, I don’t care what you pay me, I’ll work on Saturdays, whatever you need. I want to cut onions. I just want to hang out.” And what I really wanted to do is I wanted to work that job in that environment on top of all the other jobs that I was doing because somehow subconsciously I already knew what I was getting. What kind of like-

Mike Sarraille:
So you wanted to learn the industry as best as possible?

Aaron Franklin:
It wasn’t even the industry, I wanted to see if I liked it before I really put my eggs in that basket. So I got a job there and really, I think I got paid. Well, I got paid in the early days of it I guess, but I would just work. I would just show up at work. Like there was no schedule, it was like, “Ah, I’m not at the other job, I’m just going straight there.” And I did that for a good while. And I never cooked anything, but I cut onions, pretty much did the same stuff I was doing when I was 12. And like at night when everybody would just disappear, that worked there, a customer would come in and be like, “Hey, how’s it going?” Like, “Ah, pretty good.” Like, “Ah, what can I get for you?” So I just kind of did my own thing at night because nobody else was there to manage or anything. So what I realized, I learned a lot of what not to do in a restaurant.

Mike Sarraille:
Let me ask you this, were you watching every aspect?

Aaron Franklin:
Not really, but I was.

Mike Sarraille:
Not really but you were.

Aaron Franklin:
I wasn’t giving side eye or anything but, yeah, I was definitely paying attention. But what I was really doing, I was like, “Okay, that’s wrong. That’s wrong.” And I think it’s probably from my parents’ place. I was like, “Ooh, that’s filthy. I think you’re supposed to pay the dumpster people. I don’t know, just a hunch.” And so I ended up just kind of like, “I’m going to go back and wash all these dishes after this other guy washes the dishes. I’m going to fold these towels after we close.” And I just kind of took it upon myself to make that place better as a project. It’s just a fun, just something to do pretty much. But what I was really trying to do is I just wanted to make sure that if I got into barbecue and I was really going to be serious about it wasn’t going to be something that a year or two down the road be like, “Oh God, this is too hard. I’m out.”

Mike Sarraille:
So at some point you come back to Stacy, you’re like, “Hey, listen.”

Aaron Franklin:
Oh no, no, she smelled it a mile away. She totally knew what was going on. She’s like, “What are…” I don’t know. And she was super, not really that into it, but of course she supports like, “Yeah, that’s cute. You want to do barbecue and stuff, whatever. Stop making me try sauces. These are nasty.” But she worked in restaurants also, she waited tables, she was managers at a couple restaurants stuff.

Mike Sarraille:
So she knew the industry as well, she knows how to run a great establishment.

Aaron Franklin:
Absolutely. Turns out she does, she’s quite good at it. But anyway, so she was kind of like waiting tables and stuff. And I was just farting around, doing random jobs and stuff. And for the longest time it’d end up just like fixing up people’s houses or like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do those cabinets for you. Ah, I’ll go work this job and stuff.” But I was starting to collect the pieces to build a restaurant one day, it’s like, “I’m going to need warmer. We’re going to have a backyard barbecue and I’m going to do it like this this time. How much can I cook?” So I started collecting, I don’t want to say hoarding because that makes it sound a little sloppier than it really was but maybe hoarding, collecting stuff. It’s like, “Okay, I need this cooker, I need this cutting board.”
I had abundance of materials around so I just ended up making everything that we needed. And then we ended up having backyard barbecues for like a hundred, 130 plus people on a Sunday and having to rent tables. And Stacy, it should have been so obvious, it wasn’t because I’m-

Mike Sarraille:
So you were renting tables or you were renting tables out to people?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, so here’s the thing, I should have known, I should have realized then that Stacy was such a badass because I was having this barbecue. And this is after I worked at John Mueller’s place, Mueller, Mueller, and I had somehow ended up buying this 500 gallon propane tank that he had lost in a business transaction that the restaurant owner of the restaurant that Stacy worked at had purchased. And he had it on Craigslist, and weird thing is like, “Hey, I want that cooker. How much?” It’s like, “Oh, $2,000.” Like, “Whatever dude, no.” It was like, “Later.” A year down the road it came back out. I was like, “I’ll give you 500 bucks for it.” He was like, “Ah, this thing is such a piece. Yeah, I’ll take your 500.” So I gave him 500 bucks, shocked I had that kind of money.
Anyway, so I had just gotten this [inaudible]. I was like, “We’re going to celebrate. We’re going to throw a huge barbecue.” And that was officially the beginning of Franklin Barbecue, is what happened because I’m making this food, I’m doing this stuff, I set up a cutting board in the back. I was like, “I’m going to cut everything on the spot.” And I’d always been doing that. And then that was like a Saturday or… It might have been Saturday, actually.
Stacy’s kind of getting worried. She’s like, “Ah man, everywhere I go in town people keep mentioning this barbecue, I’m kind of worried. I think a lot more people than you think are going to show up are going to show up. I think you’re in trouble.” I was like, “Nah, nobody… We’ll have like 20 people, like nobody’s going to show up.” She’s like, “I don’t know, I’m going to go rent some tables.” So she took it upon herself to drive out to Elgin, pick up some sausage, worried that we weren’t going to have enough food. She called up La Zona Rosa, back in the day they used to rent tables and took my truck, packed up a bunch of tables, packed up a bunch of chairs, we set them up in the backyard. I strung up lights that night in the backyard.
And I’ll be damned if 130 people showed up. All friends but I hung out at clubs back then playing music and stuff. I would make these little handbills, little… For shows and stuff, you know? They’re like, “Hey, having a barbecue. Hey, having a barbecue.” So people are kind of like, “Oh that’s Aaron, the barbecue guy. Ah, it’s Aaron, the barbecue guy.” I didn’t really know this at this point, it was out and about, like new people and stuff. So anyway, we kind of set this thing of like, “I don’t know.” And I’m starting to get a little nervous, I’m like, “Ah, man, briskets are done kind of early. I don’t know, I’m just going to leave him on the cooker.” I had wrapped him in butcher paper and stuff. I was like, “I’m just going to leave him like this, I guess. Ah, I don’t know. I don’t know.” Just being a big old fricking dumb dumb just not knowing what to do because there was no template. There was no content to pull from anywhere. You could ask a guy named Jeeves how to cook a brisket but he didn’t have a good answer for you. This is really dating how far back this was.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. Every Texan him with a Green Egg will tell you how to cook-

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, but Big Green Eggs weren’t even around really, hardly, then. It’s like you had holes in the ground and stuff. So anyway, I start to realize the briskets are ready, sides are ready, made all this stuff, got the cutting board set up. And I was kind of sitting there, I was like, “All right, so I guess I’ll cut this. I’ll arrange it like that.” Figuring out mise en place. And then all these people start showing up, I was like, “Oh my God.” And then I was like, “Hey,” I made announcement, I was like, “All right, dinner’s ready, let’s eat.” And then I go and I tie on my little apron and stuff and I look up and there’s a first person in line at the cutting board and there was a line that went all the way down the backyard, around the house, down the driveway and down the street. Every person formed a single line file, I had never seen this before. I was like, “What the heck?” And I remember I pulled out the first brisket and I was unwrapping it and stuff. And I put it on the board and I was like, I looked at it and it jiggled, and I never cooked a brisket like that before. And I looked up at the person that was in front of me, her name was Pam Colloff, she was a Texas Monthly barbecue writer.

Mike Sarraille:
No kidding. [inaudible]

Aaron Franklin:
Wife of a fella I played in a band with.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay.

Aaron Franklin:
So she was the first person in line because they were just barbecue nerds and this wasn’t a scene, you know? And I look at her and we both look at the brisket and she’s like, “Oh my God, that thing looks good.” I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know where this came from. I don’t know how it happened.” And I pulled out a knife and I started slicing it and we’re both like, “Oh my God, this is tender.” I never made a tender brisket before. And a huge light bulb went off, it’s like, “Oh.” And so I started backtracking all the steps that I had taken and it’s like when Keyser Soze with a coffee mug, like the whole thing just came together. And then I started chit-chatting with every person, cutting everything to order. And that was officially the beginning of Franklin Barbecue.

Mike Sarraille:
Did she write an article?

Aaron Franklin:
What’s that?

Mike Sarraille:
Did she write an article at that time?

Aaron Franklin:
No, but we…

Mike Sarraille:
Down the line?

Aaron Franklin:
Texas Monthly figured it out pretty quickly. She was also like, our first day in the trailer, the whole Texas Monthly office showed up to eat lunch.

Mike Sarraille:
[inaudible].

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were across the street.

Mike Sarraille:
You start up a trailer off the interstate 35, it’s almost equivalent to selling oranges off the interstate.

Aaron Franklin:
Well, actually we were between a topless bar and an adult video store.

Mike Sarraille:
Oh, there you go. A topless bar.

Aaron Franklin:
Behind a dilapidated Texaco station, behind a chain link fence without really having a sign for the place.

Mike Sarraille:
And you start to back the house. This was 2009, correct?

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. So this is December of 2009. It was cold and kind of gloomy as most Decembers should be. And that’s when I was doing the two briskets a day, and I’d never cooked a rack of ribs before we opened, I didn’t really have the money just to like cook stuff and play around with it. I mean, it had to really have a purpose. So I scrounge our money, I think if one check had cleared on opening day we would’ve had 28 cents in the bank. That’s how close we cut it on opening day. We actually opened with insurance money that Stacy got from a little fender bender and we never fixed her car.
So we opened up, it was like two briskets a day, like real low standards. I mean, I had a spreadsheet, it was like, I remember an old friend of mine was looking at it. He was like, “Dude, you only need to feed 15 people a day? I was like, “Well, those are the numbers I think I’m working with. So yeah, I’m just going to have to make it work.” I was real small. So I would buy one, two briskets, on Saturdays I did three briskets because that was the big barbecue day. Ooh. And one thing led to another and it got busier.
And then at the end of December, a fellow named Daniel Vaughn came by and he had a blog called Full Custom Gospel. Do they still have blogs? I don’t know. Anyway, he ended up being the Texas Monthly barbecue editor years later but then he was not, that position had not been created yet. But oddly enough, a neighbor behind our trailer… So this is like the stars of Saturn or the moons of Saturn truly aligned for all this stuff. One of his good college buddies from Tulane lived a few houses behind our barbecue trailer. And this guy is a rad dude, called up Daniel. He is like, “Hey, some guys opened up a barbecue trailer and it’s good. You should check it out.” So Daniel popped in with a couple guys. He ended up writing a post about it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I look out one day, I was like, “Oh my God, why do these people have lawn chairs outside the gate that I haven’t opened yet?” And I wasn’t expecting anything. And then I figured it out because at first I went out there, I was like, “What is going on? I don’t have enough food to feed you four people. It won’t be ready for another hour.” Super winging it. I would go pull the briskets, go eat tacos and just watch from across the I35 and if somebody pulled up, I would drive over. But anyway, so the rest is pretty much history.

Mike Sarraille:
So-

Aaron Franklin:
Long winded, so sorry.

Mike Sarraille:
No, no, no. I can tell you’re a long-winded guy, I’m giving you crap. Were you and Stacy living on egg shells at the beginning?

Aaron Franklin:
Living on what?

Mike Sarraille:
Eggshells. In terms of whether this business was going to make it or not?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, so she kept her job to pay our bills.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay. That is one hell of a wife, dude.

Aaron Franklin:
Absolutely.

Mike Sarraille:
She’s also probably working weekends at the trailer?

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. So she worked weekends at the trailer and she kept her job to pay the bills. Our cost of living was painfully low. I mean, I think we probably spent $500 a month to live. I mean, it was… Also, it was a lot cheaper then. But yeah, so I just worked it at the trailer and then she helped out and both of us, I mean, we just had to figure it out. We’d never owned a restaurant before.

Mike Sarraille:
Come on. Actually, let’s get to mid roll because I want to get into what it takes to perfect your craft in this profession. I mean, no culinary training and yet you’ve become, I mean some of the things I’ve read, best barbecue in Texas if not America. I’m assuming that means internationally as well because is there much barbecue outside of [inaudible]?

Aaron Franklin:
That’s probably a safe assumption.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay. Yeah.

Aaron Franklin:
Universe? I don’t know.

Mike Sarraille:
So we ask hard questions before our mid roll, hardest decision you’ve ever had to make?

Aaron Franklin:
Hmm. I think the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make… Personal or business related?

Mike Sarraille:
Either, they’re usually the same.

Aaron Franklin:
I’m going to… Yeah, pretty close. I think the hardest decision we had to make was what do we do at our restaurant at the beginning of the pandemic? It’s the only time we ever looked at each other like, “We’re about to lose our business.” That was real sketchy.

Mike Sarraille:
And coming at the wake of part of your restaurant burned down with-

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, a number of years before that. Yeah. And that was fine, it’s just a silly, old building. We’ll build that thing back, no big deal. But the pandemic, that was… We’ve been having some real existential thoughts over the last couple years. But once we figured it out, it was fine. But I mean like the world is burning. Like nobody had any data to make a good decision about anything.

Mike Sarraille:
Did you guys transition to to-go orders?

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. Our dining room pretty much looked like a Domino’s pizza delivery place. I mean, boxes everywhere. We had one guy that could really do the flip really fast. People scattered like roaches, were like, “I’m out, my mom’s compromised. I’m done.” And it was just kind of every man for themselves. But we kind figured it out, it took about two or three weeks. Bt we actually switched to curbside before it was mandatory, we beat it by a day.

Mike Sarraille:
Gotcha.

Aaron Franklin:
But what a weird scene, just watching everything go down and be like, “Oh my God. I don’t know if this restaurant can sustain no customers. I don’t think it can.”

Mike Sarraille:
Biggest regret of your life? No regrets?

Aaron Franklin:
I’m going to say I’ve got a tattoo on my lower back and it’s says, “No regerts.”

Mike Sarraille:
First off, it’s a tram stamp.

Aaron Franklin:
No, I don’t want to say that. No, I really don’t have any tattoos, but I’m going to say no regerts.

Mike Sarraille:
So funny enough, my time in the SEALS you’d have some of the dudes that served in the late eighties, early nineties, take their shirt off and there’d be a tramp stamp right there. And we’re like…

Aaron Franklin:
Like, “Dude.”

Mike Sarraille:
Like, “Hey, hey, man.” It was okay in the nineties, they weren’t called tramp stamps, which I don’t know why they didn’t have them removed, but that’s beyond the point. Okay. We’re going to take about a three minute, five minute break and we’re going to be right back with Aaron Franklin, we’re going to dive in.

Aaron Franklin:
Cool, cool.

Mike Sarraille:
And we’re back with Aaron Franklin. So Aaron you’ve come a long way since the days of a trailer and only two briskets.

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah. Now we own like 10 trailers, I’m a true Texan.

Mike Sarraille:
I mean the second I rolled in to Austin with my U-Haul behind my Tacoma, one, I came from Virginia Beach where you can’t even get a good steak. I mean, Outback Steakhouse was the best we had. Everyone’s like, “You’ve got to go to Franklin’s Barbecue. And when I went, the line was around the block, people are sitting in beach chairs. Right?

Aaron Franklin:
Like lawn chairs and stuff. Yeah, like a little fold up camping chairs.

Mike Sarraille:
And some people brought their own beer, which that’s legal in Austin. Correct?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, it depends on what license you’ve got.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay.

Aaron Franklin:
Like beer license.

Mike Sarraille:
Beer license. So people are drinking beer, they’re waiting for barbecue, hours. I mean, that is loyalty and dedication, dude. That is a brand.

Aaron Franklin:
Crazy. And there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not so thankful for all those people. Wow.

Mike Sarraille:
Do you try to walk around that block and introduce yourself?

Aaron Franklin:
All the time. That’s why my voice sounds like this.

Mike Sarraille:
What I want to drive home for our listeners here is, I mean, one, you said you were working 120 hours a week. I know it’s a 24 hour operation because those cookers are going.

Aaron Franklin:
No, it truly is.

Mike Sarraille:
I mean, you taught yourself how to weld. Yesterday we came by the restaurant, you said fluid dynamics.

Aaron Franklin:
Fluid dynamics. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s some stuff going on inside these cookers.

Mike Sarraille:
I look around and I go, “Hey, did he just say thermodynamics? He just lost me.”

Aaron Franklin:
You’re like, “What?”

Mike Sarraille:
So no culinary training. Dude, talk me how would you perfect your craft from the cooking to designing your own… I say cookers, is that…

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, no, that’s accurate. Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Sarraille:
What does that take? Go on a monologue, man, because this is insane that you went from no training to having one of the most established restaurants.

Aaron Franklin:
Well, here’s the thing though. You have to think what is training? You’re taking someone else’s point of view and you’re doing what they told you to do.

Mike Sarraille:
Which is guidance. It’s nothing more than guidance.

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, it’s totally guidance. But I mean, if as maybe someone that’s a little creative and really flipping stubborn, super bullheaded… I piss myself off with the arguments that I get with myself, I can’t win. But if you think about all these things, there’s no training involved in any of this stuff because life was training. It’s kind of like when you watch one of those movies and like you Old Joe Dirt, [inaudible]. But you’ve got a job that does this, or you learned how to do this, or you had a hobby that did this, or you got really into… I mean, I love electricity and electrical engineering and stuff like that so I’m really good at electrical. I can rewire houses very easily and I totally know the code book. So that’s helpful. I’m really good at plumbing. I’m really good at carpentry. I’m really good at building things, good with my hands.
But then when you combine all these things… So as part of the plan to open up a restaurant… I never really wanted a trailer, that was just a way to get to an actual building of course. Which really luckily fell into our laps pretty easily. I don’t want to say easily, that’s not true. But anyway, so if you’re plotting this plan… And I’ve got a point to this, believe it or not. Yeah, I know. So you know where you want to be and then you start to think about, you backtrack. It’s like, “Okay, well, how do I get there?” So then you start to strategically decide, “Oh, I need to learn how to do electrical work. I’m going to get a job doing this. Oh, I’m going to have to build butcher blocks one day. I’m going to get a third job doing this. Oh, well, man, I need to learn how to do this. Well, I’m going to buy welder and just figure it out.”
Because this was before YouTube, you couldn’t really look on YouTube and learn anything. You had to figure it out. But I’m a tinkerer by nature, pretty darn handy. And I really like to think about things, I get pretty heady sometimes about figuring out processes and things like that. But really if you think about early days of cooked barbecue, the end goal was to own a restaurant. So that’s 10 plus years of just thinking about every detail that it takes to get there. So then you start checking off the boxes and that’s how you get good at this stuff. That’s why you don’t need training.
Oh, I mean, training is cool if you want like a shortcut, sure. But to be able to learn all these skills and learn all these things so then finally when this restaurant finally becomes a reality, it’s like, “Oh, the warmer’s broken.” “Oh yeah. That’s just a thermocouple, I know how to fix that. Oh, let me get my own meter. Oh yep, broken connection. Ah, impedance is off. I got this, I got backups in my garage.” Like, “Oh, well, the cooker, this happened.” “Ah, I can do that. Oh.”
So I had that side of it but at the same time Stacy, she was developing all these skills of like, “Oh, well this is how you do the economics of a restaurant. This is how you set up QuickBooks. This is how you do this and that.” And like service, we’re both very service oriented. I mean, obviously I’m talking your fricking ears off right now, I’m a pretty friendly guy, I like to talk to people. Until I don’t. So really that was our training. I mean, it’s a lifetime of training. It’s like one of those movies, when you watch it, everything just kind of comes together at the tail end. It’s like, “Oh, that’s what that meant.” So it was a self-guided tour.

Mike Sarraille:
In terms of the end product, the barbecue, was that just years and hours of testing?

Aaron Franklin:
No testing, we learned on the fly. It was years of opening up Franklin Barbecue and being like, “Man, I need six briskets today. I got to learn how to do this. Oh my God, it’s snowing in the wood is green, I got to figure this out.” So we just learned on the spot. We figured it out as we went. And we still are because there’s no equation, there’s no solid… There’s a solid, like the basics, you can have the basics for sure. But restaurants are so squirly, especially barbecue. I mean, you’re cooking 24 hours a day, you’ve got a 12 or 14 hour brisket cook. Here in central Texas, that could be three different seasons that you go through to get to the end of that brisket. So you’ve got to really figure things out on the spot.

Mike Sarraille:
Let me lead with this question, what’s your favorite barbecue place outside of Franklin Barbecue? Who are you going to give props to? Or is that a completely loaded question for the profession you’re in?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, it sort of is. But really, I don’t think I look to my favorite barbecue restaurants. I look more to culture and longevity than just the whatever food they’re serving. So I tend to migrate towards obviously not chains, I like the ma and pa businesses. I like the Franklin Barbecues out there, I’ll go get a Phillipe’s original sandwich in LA, I’ll go to La Taqueria in San Francisco. These are my places, I like the old school places that can just crank the stuff out. I think that’s inspirational and I think it’s neat. Here in Austin we’ve got Matt’s El Rancho, for example, all the kids hang out there. And I don’t necessarily want my kid to take over our place, she can do whatever the heck she wants to do, like wherever her heart leads her is great, she’ll be fine. But I love those places that have the level of service, level of quality, all the things line up and they make it work.

Mike Sarraille:
So you may have already answered this question, what is it in your eyes that makes Franklin or any other award-winning restaurant distinct from the others? What are those specific differences?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, I don’t know if we are anymore.

Mike Sarraille:
Number one, you’ve got to have good food, we understand that.

Aaron Franklin:
Well, you’ve got to have great food of course. We use a lot of salt, tremendous amounts of salt. Really, and this is why I’m not into the big restaurant groups that make a concept, that’s why I don’t go to those restaurants, they’re not my inspiration. Anybody can throw money at a thing, go get training, go open up this great restaurant, buy these expensive plates, hire the best people, but you know what money can’t buy? It can’t buy soul and it can’t buy the magic that happens when you just hug somebody or you just make someone a memory. Memories are what make everything work, that’s the nostalgia that got me into barbecue. That’s the thing that keeps families coming back to Franklin Barbecue over and over every year and we see their kids grow up and then their kids have kids and they keep coming back. That’s the magic.

Mike Sarraille:
That’s the joy of reporting in Austin downtown.

Aaron Franklin:
Absolutely. But that’s what you can’t buy. And that’s the stuff that I think makes Franklin Barbecue because we started with such a small amount of money but, my God, we had a lot of soul and we had a lot of desire and a lot of hard work. And we figured out as we went but along the way we have just built so many amazing relationships with so many people. The people that keep coming through the restaurant and I’ll go out there in the mornings with my espresso. Like there’s customers that just walk into the kitchen and pull an espresso shot. There’s people that, I’ve had one guy, Gary, on my calendar for like four years for his whatever-th birthday that he wants me to cook and be for his… That’s been on the calendar for like four years.

Mike Sarraille:
No kidding?

Aaron Franklin:
So that’s what makes Franklin Barbecue, Franklin Barbecue. But I think that’s what makes it special because you can’t learn that stuff, that stuff has to come from the heart. But that’s also the same heart and the same mind that makes you learn things and gives you passion and really that’s the magic, you know?

Mike Sarraille:
Well, you’ve gotten your shared accolades for what you’ve done. I mean, you’ve got multiple books. When is that Michelin star coming down the pipe?

Aaron Franklin:
Oh no, not for us. Well, they would never offer it anyway, but we wouldn’t accept that anyway.

Mike Sarraille:
I love that. Coming from the Bay area, I’ve been to my share of Michelin star restaurants.

Aaron Franklin:
Y’all have got a ton of them out there. But that’s kind of like a real old school kind of restaurant, that’s kind of like the fancy culinary school. And that is a style of restaurant, no doubt, that soul can’t get you there, you have to have real skill.

Mike Sarraille:
Beyond that though, I have never went to a Michelin star restaurant and left blown away.

Aaron Franklin:
I haven’t either.

Mike Sarraille:
Maybe I’m too much of a dude, I like substance to what I’m eating and the eight course one piece meal doesn’t work.

Aaron Franklin:
Well, I think about a meal like that and not… I mean there are some truly absurdly incredible restaurants out there but when you have a meal like that, just like that dish has to be perfectly composed and you have to have salt and acid balance you also have to have a heart and soul balance. For me you also have to have a food and personality balance, there’s a lot more stuff that goes into just restaurants. So there are a lot of different restaurants out there, a lot of different types of chefs and cooks. And I represent-

Mike Sarraille:
I recognize people enjoy different things.

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, and I represent such a small market share of that.

Mike Sarraille:
I wouldn’t say small, that’s your humility come through. There’s a certain sushi restaurant here in Austin that I-

Aaron Franklin:
You’re probably about to say my favorite restaurant.

Mike Sarraille:
Twice I went there, left with a hole in my pocket, me and my wife, and I’m like, “Mother…” We go straight to P Terry’s down the road, order a couple burgers. I go home, I eat them, and like now I’m full.

Aaron Franklin:
I do that in a lot of restaurants, we’ll be sitting there eating, be like, “Ah, yeah, that’s going to be P Terry’s kind of night.” But I know that restaurant you speak of and it is damn good.

Mike Sarraille:
It is.

Aaron Franklin:
It is so good.

Mike Sarraille:
Great. Through the roof. I’m just that type of guy, again, I want substance.

Aaron Franklin:
They also did a good balance of soul. I mean, they’ve got service, they’ve got energy. There’s some incredible people that run that place and work there. That restaurant shall remain nameless by the way.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah, it shall remain nameless.

Aaron Franklin:
But we all know what we’re talking about.

Mike Sarraille:
I’m not speaking up against it because, one, slander lawsuits. Jesus. So, hell, again, you’ve done shows, Masterclass. You are on Masterclass and we spoke yesterday about Masterclass. Yeah. Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, the Bush’s are on there. I mean you’re sharing the stage with… Did they approach you?

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So the thing about Masterclass… And I was real early on, I mean it was like Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsey and me. I mean they were before me for sure. But I think it was the third food guy, maybe fourth. And they’re so nice, I mean the Masterclass folks are, man, they’re obviously very good at what they do. But I don’t think you solicit them. I think they just kind of-

Mike Sarraille:
They seek you out by reputation.

Aaron Franklin:
That’s what they do. They’re just like, “Who is the absolute best of what they do?” And they’ve got a lot of people you’ve never heard of, but then once you watch the videos it’s like, “Oh my God.”

Mike Sarraille:
They also have a lot people the world’s heard of.

Aaron Franklin:
They do, truly incredible. I’m so honored to have been a part of that. And it’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

Mike Sarraille:
It is an amazing platform, they’ve done a great job of that. So you had a no shipping policy at one point.

Aaron Franklin:
Well, then we had a thing called the pandemic.

Mike Sarraille:
Is that what changed?

Aaron Franklin:
Absolutely.

Mike Sarraille:
Because I remember in my days in Memphis where I still order as a gift when we want to send a gift, Rendezvous?

Aaron Franklin:
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mike Sarraille:
Will you guys ever go for-

Aaron Franklin:
That’s like my favorite tile floor.

Mike Sarraille:
Is it? Yeah. Will you guys ever go full scale to that degree where you’re shipping across the nation?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, so we do ship briskets with Goldbelly but that’s a third party and those guys are great. But really how we ended up with that, we cook about 120 briskets a day, 106 to 120, depending on how wide they are. But when the pandemic happened we were down to zero for a short period of time and then we were trying to build up the thing. But the thing with the curbside was is we couldn’t get… The first couple days, it was real squirrly because we cut off I35 and Capital Metro had to move their bus stop because there were too many cars and because we didn’t know the cadence of our ordering yet. So once we figured it out, we realized we could only really cook about 50 something briskets and get people in and out in a reasonable amount of time because a car is a lot bigger than two people, so you don’t have the room for it. And then we have to cut it and then we have to run it down and all that stuff. So that left a bit of a gap.
And traditionally we didn’t ship out because we could only make so much food and it all went to the lunch service. And then when we had more room on the cookers during the pandemic, it’s like, “Okay.” And then, so that kind of factored into it. We were physically able to make the food but also everybody was stuck at home and it kind of goes back to the soul of it in some ways. I mean, I know we were all kind of eating our feelings in the beginning. I mean, I think my wife and I ate like six pounds of shepherd’s pie one night by ourselves.

Mike Sarraille:
The pandemic was good for no one.

Aaron Franklin:
Look at this body, look at me.

Mike Sarraille:
The gyms are closed. You had nothing but time to eat.

Aaron Franklin:
Absolutely.

Mike Sarraille:
And Netflix.

Aaron Franklin:
Lots of that.

Mike Sarraille:
We crushed Netflix.

Aaron Franklin:
So at that point it was like, “All right.” And a buddy of mine started shipping Goldbelly stuff and we got like a Parkway Tavern’s from New Orleans. And I remember sitting there, I’m pretty sure I squeezed out some tears because I was thinking, I was like, “Oh my God, what if I ever get to see New Orleans again?” I love new Orleans so much and I love the food there so much. And it kind of dawned me, it was like the food, it’s the same thing that got us into this. Food is our heart, you know? There’s so many memories with food and what your grandma cooked for you or what your parents made for you or your first date with your wife, what did you eat? I bet you remember your first date.

Mike Sarraille:
Oh yeah.

Aaron Franklin:
Food is such a part of it. And it dawned on me with that eating the Parkway Tavern’s. Yeah, it wasn’t as good as it would’ve been at the restaurant, of course. But I was like, oh my God, all these memories of the 30, 40, 50 times I’ve been to the Parkway in New Orleans. I was like, “We got to get these briskets out there.” So we did.

Mike Sarraille:
Food and music are tied to memories.

Aaron Franklin:
Absolutely. And those are my two favorite things. For a guy that doesn’t like to look back, all my stuff is based on nostalgia and memories.

Mike Sarraille:
So before we get to our final questions, where do you go from… Well, first off, how was the visit with Obama?

Aaron Franklin:
Oh man, that guy is super cool.

Mike Sarraille:
Oh yeah.

Aaron Franklin:
Duh.

Mike Sarraille:
Who wouldn’t want to have a whole whiskey with President Obama?

Aaron Franklin:
Absolutely. He was so nice. And the whole staff was so kind, so thoughtful, man.

Mike Sarraille:
Did you guys have to shut down?

Aaron Franklin:
No, no. So we were filming the PBS show that day actually and we ran off and got sandwiches at the end of lunch. It was like, “Oh, he’s not going to come by.” We didn’t know, I just kind of had a feeling that it was like today might be the day that this guy comes through. It’s 1:30 or so, I sit down for a sandwich, I get a call from somebody at the restaurant like, “Dude, you got to get back up here.” I was like, “Why? Oh my God, what’s going on?” He was like, “Obama’s here. You got to get up here.”

Mike Sarraille:
Whoa, whoa, you, they didn’t give you a heads up?

Aaron Franklin:
Oh, they can’t because they can’t compromise security. So they popped in, they shut down I35, they popped in, cars pull up and, man, the crowds went wild. It was the craziest thing ever. So I end up driving back up there, I can’t get in because all the streets are blocked. I end up on the phone with a police Sergeant. He’s like, “What are you driving?” I was like, “Ford F350.” He’s like, “All right, where are you at?” Like, “I’m on 35, I could block the Austin energy gate at 12th.” He’s like, “Okay, do it. I’m calling it in right now, I’m coming on foot.” I’m like, “All right.” So I park, we grab our kid, walking in with an 18 month old kiddo. The neighbors are on their front porches yelling, it was like, “Yeah, you get ’em.” People were cheering us on as we’re walking down the street. It was so weird, man.

Mike Sarraille:
So you felt like a baller.

Aaron Franklin:
No, I was just trying to get up there to make sure that we cut him a good piece of meat. I was like, “Oh, I want to cut this.” But anyway, so I get up there and I open the side door, there’s two doors to the dining room, open up the middle one. And he was on his way out, open up the door and a security guy… Of course, because I just stormed in like I owned the place, “Get off my back old man.” A security guy grabbed me by the shoulders, pulled me back because he knew that Obama was walking through on the other side. And then Barack Obama, he’s like, “Oh my God, you’re here.” And then we stood there about 45 minutes and talked and stuff and he was so nice. He like grabbed the kiddo, photo op, all that stuff. Really cool.

Mike Sarraille:
What’d he say about the food? He’s like, “Hey…”

Aaron Franklin:
Well, they took it to Air Force One and ate it on the plane.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay. But you’ve [inaudible] Did he send you a note? “Hey, legit.”

Aaron Franklin:
Oh man, they followed up like crazy. The White House photographer sent us all the files of all the pictures. And a really awesome fellow, Ralph, he’s a photographer for Austin American Statesman, he was also there and he made some books for us with all the pictures and stuff. So yeah, it was really cool, that dude was super cool. I mean, way over my head, but man, I would love to have a beer with him one day.

Mike Sarraille:
Oh dude. Yeah, absolutely. Him and Bill Murray. What’s next for Aaron?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, I’ve got band practice here in about 30 minutes.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay, so we’re going to get you out of here. But I know you’ve got Laura, which by the way, well done dude.

Aaron Franklin:
Thanks.

Mike Sarraille:
You know what the problem is? Your places are so packed and my wife are pretty impatient about our food, it’s hard to go to your restaurant sometimes.

Aaron Franklin:
I don’t know.

Mike Sarraille:
Can I get a, “Sorry?”

Aaron Franklin:
But at the end of the day it’s pretty simple, all you’ve got to do is show up.

Mike Sarraille:
Okay, a little patience. But I mean beyond that what’s your next passion project?

Aaron Franklin:
Well, so we’re working on a restaurant here in Austin called Uptown Sports Club, it’s on east sixth, it’s at an old 1800s building. We’re in construction currently, should open about Christmas. And back to my love for New Orleans, it’s an all day New Orleans kind of spot. So it’s a gumbo, po’boy joint, lots of Franklin crossover, it’s like a Texas version po’boys. But it’ll turn into like a brasserie menu at night, espressos in the morning, breakfast stuff. We open at 7:00 AM, we’ll close at 2:00 AM. So that’ll be cool. I’m super excited about that. I have a festival called Hot Luck Fest, that happens Memorial day weekend, May 26th through 29th this year, ’22. So that’s pretty cool, I work real hard on that. And then we’ve got the Franklin barbecue pits, which we sell, we’re starting to make a lot of those. Our numbers are really getting up there. We’re getting through that wait list. We’ve got almost 70,000 people on a wait list and we’re actually getting-

Mike Sarraille:
You have got to be kidding me.

Aaron Franklin:
Oh, well the conversion rate is not that great, believe it or not. But we’re cranking pits out so I think here in a couple years-

Mike Sarraille:
Being manufactured out of where?

Aaron Franklin:
So we started off in Austin and it turns out Austin’s not geographically conducive to making big weld-y things of super high quality. Just because, you know, they don’t make steel here, this is not where… So we kind of went up towards the Midwest and we’ve got two manufacturing places, one in Tulsa, one in Lexington, North Carolina that are just absolutely crushing it. And we’ve got the rollers and we laser cut everything and our team’s amazing and we just travel back and forth between all these places. We’ve got a pits team here in town at our shop. We still have our shop, we do the custom stuff at the shop here in town. But the main bulk of the production stuff comes from those places.

Mike Sarraille:
Dude, congratulations.

Aaron Franklin:
Thanks. And the cool thing about this pits is every time I fire one up, I think to myself, “Self? Is this the best cooker I’ve ever cooked on?” I don’t know how this happened. The convection and the way these things radiate heat and the way they pull and they draft, oh my God, never cooked on anything else like it.

Mike Sarraille:
Well, now I’m going to have to order one and maybe you’ll move me to the front of the line with-

Aaron Franklin:
Sure, sure.

Mike Sarraille:
All right. Final questions, and I can’t thank you enough for doing this, we’ll get you [inaudible]

Aaron Franklin:
Oh yeah, thanks for having to me.

Mike Sarraille:
How will Aaron Franklin look back and measure his life and know whether he’s lived it well, man?

Aaron Franklin:
No regerts. No, but really, and my wife’s snickers when I say this, she’s like, “God, you’re so full of it.” And I mean this so honestly I’m absolutely not… My whole life I’ve always set my goals with the idea that when I look back one day I won’t regret anything. And everything I’ve ever done, like how I’ve been at the restaurant or anything really has always been like, “Is this something I’m going to feel bad about one day?” If the answer’s no, then it’s a go. So really, I don’t know how I’m going to be remembered, like legacy stuff, whatever, who cares. But I think when I’m old and I look back, I want to be really proud of everything. And the things that I’m proud of is Franklin Barbecue and my family, those are pretty much the only two things.

Mike Sarraille:
We had Sammy Hagar-

Aaron Franklin:
I mean, there’s some other cool stuff too, I guess.

Mike Sarraille:
We had Sam Hagar on, we asked him the same question. He said, “Don’t fuck anyone.” And of course we’re going to cut that out. I’m going to look at Tom Freestone, the Men’s Journal editor and say, “Cut that out.”

Aaron Franklin:
Of course. But that’s true.

Mike Sarraille:
And he said, “I make decisions and I asked myself, ‘Am I screw somebody on this?'”

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah.

Mike Sarraille:
I thought that was brilliant.

Aaron Franklin:
No, it’s true. Just be a good honest person and do your best. And dude, that’s awesome.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. But there’s a difference between having good intent and then it’s business, man. Some things just-

Aaron Franklin:
And obviously some things aren’t going to work out.

Mike Sarraille:
Being forthright about it.

Aaron Franklin:
But if you feel good about your ethics and just what kind of person you are, I think that’s the most important thing.

Mike Sarraille:
I love that. Last question, what are those one to three tenants? Those keys to success you’ve lived your life by that have served you well and led to a high degree to success because of the discipline, because of the commitment because of the focus that you have.

Aaron Franklin:
I think reliability is a big one. If you say you’re going to do something, you better do it and you better do it well.

Mike Sarraille:
Well, Texas, all hat, no cattle.

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah totally.

Mike Sarraille:
Make sure you back it up.

Aaron Franklin:
No half ass-ing. Don’t just do something because it’s good enough. You know what good enough is? It’s not good enough. You better do it better. And I think just having good intentions, really that’s about it.

Mike Sarraille:
Those are pretty damn good rules, man. Well, Aaron, you’ve got a loyal fan on the barbecue side, man.

Aaron Franklin:
Gotcha.

Mike Sarraille:
Your story is absolutely-

Aaron Franklin:
Well, it’s a little Forrest Gump-y but I’ll take it.

Mike Sarraille:
It’s inspiring, man. I’ll tell you what, the beauty of this podcast in talking with people from all different domains that have absolutely… It’s not easy. They’ve all put the work and the time in, they’ve all accepted great risk. I’m sharpening my own ax by talking with people like you.

Aaron Franklin:
Well, it’s cool, all the people that you’ve interviewed for this. Because there’s so many, the old term, there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. There’s so many ways to get there, to get wherever you want to be. But the thing is, is you need to know where you want to be a little bit. You never really know until you get there, and it changes all the time anyway. But you could go to school, there’s so many different routes to get there. But as long as you’re proud of what you do, you’re happy about it, it’s good, and you’re doing a good job of it, man, go for it. I think you have to take a little bit of risk to get anywhere.

Mike Sarraille:
And you have to define what success looks like for you, nobody else can do that.

Aaron Franklin:
Yeah, and it’s different for everybody.

Mike Sarraille:
Absolutely. Aaron, thank you brother.

Aaron Franklin:
Man, thanks for having me.

Episode 11

Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 11: Nick Shaw
In our eleventh episode of the Everyday Warrior podcast, we spoke to Nick Shaw, former professional powerlifter and bodybuilder.
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Episode 12

Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 12: Shannon Sharpe
In our twelfth episode of the Everyday Warrior podcast, we spoke to Shannon Sharpe, sports analyst and former professional football player.
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Episode 13

Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 13: Tecovas Founder Paul Hedrick
In our thirteenth episode of the Everyday Warrior podcast, we spoke to Paul Hedrick, founder of Tecovas, Austin-based cowboy boot retailer.
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