Enduring Barbecue Line at Franklin Sprouts New Businesses
It doesn't matter if it's 100 degrees out or it's raining – if you want to eat at Austin's Franklin Barbecue you have to wait in a line for an average of about five hours. That's no secret.
But in the last year, a growing number of people, like Desmond Roldan, have started making money off of that line. And for them, the longer the line, the better.
"People know me. I’m a big deal," Roldan says, giggling. This 13-year-old with big blue eyes and a sleek side-part hairdo is the face of BBQ Fast Pass.
This entrepreneur charges $50 to $150 to stand for hours in the Franklin Barbecue line.
"The people I wait for, even if they're from New York, they're still nice, and it's not like they're just coming here and spending all their money so they can just have it," Roldan says. "They wanna have it, and they don't have the time for it."
Others do have the time for it, like Robin Staab from Bartlesville, Okla.
I asked her on a recent Sunday at 7 a.m. why she was at Franklin so early.
"To get the best barbecue in the world," said Staab, who added that to make the time pass, she planned to talk with the others in line, meet new people, read on her iPhone, read the paper and drink coffee.
Just a few steps away, you can hear an espresso machine at work, or many cups of cold brew coffee being served.
Ever since January, you can buy coffee right around the corner and bring it back to the line. I spoke to one of the owners of this coffee company.
Welbes serves her coffee from a wooden truck. She’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- prime time for the barbecue line.
"It was always in the back of our mind that this would be a really amazing place to start a business," she says.
Welbes has a captive customer base. People who aren't going anywhere for hours, and people from all over the world, too.
"I feel like the largest majority of foreign tourists have been from Australia, which is kind of surprising but really awesome," she said. "There's a lot of Brits. Barbecue and coffee have wide-reaching fans."
Back at the line, Benjamin Jacob is chatting with the dozens and dozens of people sitting on the pavement.
"Everybody doing alright?" he yells out to them.
Benjamin Jacob is Franklin's general manager. He then shared some bad news: The people towards the end of the line would not get in until 2 p.m.
At this point it's after 9 a.m., and there are at least 100 people in line.
"It's a crazy thing. It shocks us every day, this line," he says. "We're still shocked by it."
When they moved to this building in 2011, Franklin made 300 pounds of meat a day. Now it's about 2,000 pounds a day.
And Jacob's totally cool with the micro-entrepreneurs also making some money from this line.
"The chair guy was one of the first guys," Jacob recalls. "He sat over here on the corner of 11th Street, and he had like 200 chairs, basically, that he would rent for $5 a pop."
"The Chair Guy," aka Derek Kipe, is no longer around. Some say he couldn’t get a license from the city. Others say he was losing money. These days you can find Eddie James, though.
Usually he walks up to a car parked in front of a fire hydrant and lets the driver know that's a prime spot for a parking ticket.
James also helps people find viable parking spots, and he cleans windows with a squeegee. He got the idea seven months ago when a woman called him over.
"I was resting, and the lady saw my squeegee and pulled up and said, 'Would you please help me?'" James recalls.
He thought it was an emergency.
"So I went over there and I saw it was some bird poop on the roof of her car all the way down the driver’s side door, and it had dried," James says. "So I cleaned it, and she gave me 10 bucks."
Now, when he sees someone with a dirty car, he sees a customer.
"Bird poop has become my ally. Bird poopologist," he says, laughing.
James takes whatever you can spare, but Desmond Roldan of BBQ Fast Pass has a pricing system, based on the day of the week and how many pounds of meat someone’s ordering. Delivery is an extra 20 bucks.
When he launched his website last month, the business took off.
"Now we’re going into August, and some people are asking about October," says Chris Roldan, Desmond's father. It's also fair to say he works for Desmond, considering how much time he devotes to the company's Twitter account and emails from potential clients.
"He's had people pay 100 percent tips before," Roldan says, telling me of a hedge fund employee who flew in with friends and left a very generous amount for Desmond at the hotel.
Desmond is saving up all of this money for a car, and he also makes a regular donation to Austin Dog Rescue.
Franklin does have a limit of one order per person in line, though an order can be really huge for a big group. That limit also keeps the line moving.
After all, when the clock strikes 11 a.m. and the door to Franklin opens, that’s when customers are happiest, no matter what happens in the line.