The original concept (1989)
The idea came from the many cool little cafes and restaurants in and around San Francisco that we used to go to. Originally, there was more emphasis on coffee and San Francisco themed gourmet products like sourdough mixes, flavored oil & vinegars, Geradelli chocolate and muffins. It was to be located in an attractive, hip neighborhood and would seat 10-15 people. The food would center around sandwiches and would be homemade with fresh products. The idea was to create a Northern West Coast neighborhood Café in an East Coast city. We picked NW Washington DC because of family ties and it has some similarities to San Francisco.
John and Angie Wolf. We still own aka Friscos. Privately owned.
aka Friscos is really a play on words. We wanted a name that referenced San Francisco but would be familiar to someone in DC. The story goes like this. If you live in San Francisco you normally would refer to it as “the city” or simply San Francisco. What you would not call it is “Frisco”. That reference was left to tourist and someone that really didn’t live there. East Coast visitors were notorious users of “Frisco”. We thought it was kind of funny to name it aka (also known as) Friscos and start one in an East Coast city. It worked. We’ve told this story hundreds of times.
We opened the original aka Friscos on October 17th, 1990 @ 4115 Wisconsin Ave. in Washington DC. It was exactly one year after the big earthquake in San Francisco. We lived there at the time. Friscos opened it’s doors with one employee…me. The hours were 8am – 3pm. We grew in volume and employees over the next couple of years. Homemade muffins were popular but did not generate the revenue we needed. The gourmet products were purchased in SF and were pretty cool. They, however, became better decorations than big sellers. Coffee did pretty good but the Lunch business was great and catering started doing very well. We stopped breakfast in 1991 and discontinued our gourmet products in 1992. The 1300 square foot café was starting to gain attention and was really busy for lunch.
In 1993 we experimented with a 2nd Friscos. We opened a Friscos in a large office building as a pilot to having several Friscos in other office buildings. Aside from serving excellent food, Friscos had started building it’s own identity and character. We were not afraid to try new things and always creating something new. That pilot store did pretty good but confined Friscos to the same faces everyday. I did not like the general lack of character it presented and decided to not pursue additional Friscos in other office buildings a year later. Meanwhile, the original Friscos was getting busier every month.
Our menu was expanding a little at a time and in 1995, we were up to 6 or 7 employees. Friscos kept getting busier. I normally don’t talk about income, but in this case it is relative to the history. Think about this. We were open six days a week from 11am-4pm (5 hours daily, 30 hours a week) and had revenues over 1/2 million annually. I can still remember the kids at Sidwell Friends School flooding Friscos at lunch time. I can’t say how much for sure, but I know they contributed a lot to the early times of Friscos. That rockin little Café provided us the platform to our next move. I recognized and believed we had a product and a concept that had a chance to develop and grow.
In 1997 we, again experimented with a 2nd Friscos. This time we bought land and built a 2500 square foot, two story building in a small business park (all we could afford) located in Frederick, Md. (our current location) The Frederick location opened in November of 1997. It was the same menu as DC but in a warehouse style restaurant that has 70 seats and is larger in every way from the original. We used the same basic concept and enhanced systems. The DC Friscos remained open for 3-4 more years before we decided to close it because of traveling distance for us and increasing rents.
Closing the DC Friscos was sad. I loved that place. It clearly paved (gravel might be a better term) an opportunity for opening our current location. I opened Friscos when I was thirty years old. I know for sure it helped me grow up…actually, it depends on who you talk to.
So, Frederick aka Friscos opened in 1997. DC closed in 2001. We worked hard on developing our food concept in Frederick. Our “word of mouth” approach to advertising is old school and very outdated. Never the less, we did it our way. (Thanks Frank.) Because of the expense incurred in buying land and building the restaurant, the first five years were difficult to say the least. Our business increased fairly quickly, but larger payments and the concept of more food for less money did not always add up at the end of the year.
We stuck with the plan. Our customer base grew, the economy grew (1999 -2004) The concept held strong. Our menu grew and changed slightly because meat and potatoes are still a force in Frederick. We are still daring, but Roast Beef, Steak and adding cheese are pretty important here. 2005 was the start of an economic downturn here, like many places. We decided to build another 2500 square foot building attached to the original just before lending became very scrutinized. And nearly impossible especially for a small business owner. In that building we added a prep kitchen, Way Cool Ice Cream and a Craft beer and wine shop. These additions have paid great benefits, especially because of the crappy economy the last 5 or 6 years. This period of time was a real test for the Friscos concept. Over this time, we continued to grow.
The last couple of years have been pretty neat and shown continued strength and a lot growth. The advent of all the Internet self review sites (yelp, etc) have brought an unexpected customer to Friscos. As mentioned before, Our “word of mouth” flavor, location, and quirkiness is more of a fit for people who know about us. It’s not like that anymore. We have tons of people arriving just based on reviews at these sites. Still great comments and a lot of out of state return customers as well as the continued support from the local community.
Our menu has grown from several items to 60 something. Exploded Potatoes are still a staple on the menu. I don’t remember who, but one day in 1992, I handed a customer a 2oz sample of my “new creation“. This year we sold 50 tons of exploded potatoes. It blows me away. Friscos is still casual, kid friendly, and still plays the music one click from being to loud. We still do not have a hostess, ketchup, or french fries. The staff is awesome and proud. We make almost everything by hand, everyday. We roast our own meats. Bake our own hams and chicken. We grill a lot of fresh steaks and chicken and buy fresh produce daily. Our menu changes slightly a lot and we create new foods all the time. Frederick has continued to embrace us and allowed for more of a San Francisco style menu development. (kind of)
Although, we have made a lot of changes and advancements in our menu from the original in 1990. We still have the same passion for making and serving simply delicious food. We’re still not afraid to walk the line or take a chance. We really have come a long way, but it still feels like we just opened. Pretty cool.