The Frisco Shop: Last of the Legend

When I sat in a booth with Frisco Shop co-owner Lawrence Baker to discuss the longevity of the north Austin restaurant (49 years and counting), our conversation was periodically interrupted by patrons who insisted on greeting Baker as they arrived or departed. He graciously greeted each customer by name, shaking hands, expressing his gratitude for their business. It became clear in those few minutes that personal service and continuity of management are two of the Frisco's biggest assets.

Lawrence Baker joined the Night Hawk organization in 1958 as a busboy/dishwasher at the Frisco Shop and worked his way through the company's rigorous management training program. He became manager of the Frisco in 1967 and remained there until the late Eighties when he was transferred downtown to the failing Night Hawk No. 1. After the demise of No. 1, Baker left the company for five years and worked in management with Dan's Hamburgers. When Baker heard that the Frisco was failing and available for sale, he formed a partnership with attorney R. Harry Akin, the Night Hawk founder's nephew, and purchased the restaurant in 1994. His cheerful face has been behind that front counter ever since. He's only one of the longtime stalwarts, however.

Baker, his chef Morris Marshall, and waitresses Shirley McGee and Letha Whitney have more than 125 years of Night Hawk service among them. You'll find Baker's team hard at work every day, turning out Frisco burgers, Top Chop't Steaks, and Chicken Frieds just as they've always done them. Baker himself still makes the signature pies: juicy apple, sweet pecan, and the delicious ice box beauties in chocolate, coconut, and banana cream. They sell upwards of 15 pies a day by the slice and have orders for all the pies they can crank out before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Generations of Austinites have come to the Frisco for breakfast and it's still a difficult choice between the fluffy pancakes or a plate of scratch biscuits covered in Lawrence Baker's sausage gravy.

Like all Austin restaurateurs, Baker deals with the daily challenges of competition from an increasing number of trendy new restaurants and well-funded national chains. He has trouble finding reliable help, new folks who understand the Night Hawk work ethic and want to be part of his team. He and his partner considered adding another outlet but Austin's high real estate prices caused them to abandon that idea. But he's confident of the Frisco's appeal, explaining that "if you're taking proper care of your business, you'll do okay. You may not have what everybody wants but if you take care of what your customers want, they'll keep coming." I asked Baker why he thought the Frisco Shop alone of all the Night Hawk restaurants had survived and his immediate response was, "It survived because we bought it and ran it the right way." The right way being the Harry Akin way, where there's nothing accidental about quality, in food or people.

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  • More of the Story

  • The Flight of the Night Bird

    Harry Akin opened for business on Christmas Eve, 1932, selling hamburgers for 15 cents apiece. Cuisines Editor Virginia B. Wood reveals how Akin turned his hamburger stand into Austin's former restaurant empire.
  • Night Hawk Alumni

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