Aaron Franklin. [Photo: Robert J. Lerma/EATX]
President Obama visited Franklin Barbecue yesterday, and owner Aaron Franklin had no warning until the secret service showed up. The president concluded his whirlwind tour of Austin restaurants at the city's most famous and cultishly loved barbecue destination, and Franklin was out running errands. He and his wife and business partner Stacy Franklin got stuck in traffic and nearly missed it.
Franklin talks with Eater about Obama's visit , including the fact that the president cut the famous Franklin Barbecue line. Franklin says, "If anyone can do it, it's him." Read on for the full interview, covering the intense security measures, the media circus, and what happens with pitmaster meets president.
How much advance warning did you have that the president was coming to Franklin?
Almost none. I actually left to pick up insulation for our new fireboxes and I got a call saying, The president is going to be here, it's swarming with secret service.
I almost didn't make it. I-35 was completely stopped. Stacy was also on her way back and got stuck in traffic. We parked on the 35 access road and came in on foot. I walked in the front door as he was leaving.
I'm only here like 100 hours a week. Would have been just my luck to miss him.
So they didn't call you or anything?
The secret service just showed up. They did security checks on all the cars on the street, there were big yellow X's taped on all of them. They searched people's bags and purses in line. It was so chaotic for about an hour.
I'll say this: it was pretty slick how the secret service got in and did their thing. They were never snooty or rude, they were all just super nice. I would have thought they would walk in like they owned the place. When they left they thanked us for having them.
It was ridiculous how many news stations were there, too. I got done with lunch and there were 54 text messages on my phone. I didn't know that many people had my number.
Obama came by at 1:30, which is close to when you sell out. What would you have done if you ran out of meat?
Say sorry? Thank goodness we got this new smokehouse finished. We usually have meat at 1:30 still, but it was close.
What was it like to meet the president?
He seems very nice. He knew who we were. He knew we'd started out as a trailer, and asked how long we'd been open and how we financed the restaurant. We told him the whole story, from Stacy keeping her job so I could focus on the trailer to how we got into our own space. He held [Franklin's daughter] Vivian for a few minutes and she didn't cry, so that was awesome.
He seems like a normal dude who just happens to have a slightly more important job than most of us. He was really considerate of people in line.
Obama cut the line at Franklin, which famously has no exceptions. Are you okay with that?
No one's ever just skipped line and gone right up to the counter and ordered food, but if it's okay for someone to do it, it's him. Everyone was super duper excited and he bought people's lunches. It didn't seem to piss anybody off. And I can't even imagine what kind of security nightmare it would be for a president to stand in line on the side of the street for several hours.
I did tell him he was only person ever to skip the line, and he should be very thankful.
He took a big to-go order. Did he try any barbecue while he was there?
He got a little nibble up at counter. He seemed excited about it.
Do you have any sense why he came to Franklin this time?
Maybe because it wasn't official business, maybe he just had more time -- beats me. Normally he goes to Stubb's. I'm certainly stoked that he came through. People keep asking if the president's been here – now he has.
That said, we're not ones to show it off or brag about it. We do what we do and we're happy and that's good enough. We don't put up pictures of famous people who've been here.
That's not the Austin way.
Right. Those people just want to have lunch like everybody else. He did have a hundred people with him, but everybody's somebody and everybody deserves to just be able to have lunch.
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