Save for some recently completed road and sidewalk improvements, the corner of South Alamo and Wickes Street has been quiet for more than three years. Since the San Antone Cafe and Concerts closed in May 2011, the former Alamo Methodist Church built in 1912 has taunted passersby with its interesting architecture, beautiful stained glass, and locked gates and doors. I've walked by the massive building countless times, fantasizing with friends about raising enough money to open "something cool" there.
But Frank may have beat us all to it.
*UPDATE: Frank hosted a grand opening on Friday, March 4, 2016. Click here to read more.
Frank is the Austin-based gourmet hot dog restaurant, bar, and live music venue offering "high-end, lowbrow" dogs. From the more basic Vienna Beef with ketchup and mustard to exotic sausages – including smoked antelope, rabbit, sage, bacon – topped with ingredients like pimento cheese, scallions, sriracha aioli and sauerkraut. Salads and other dishes are available, as well as legitimate vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menu items. And craft beer – oh, and craft cocktails.
After five years of success in the heart of downtown Austin, they've decided to head south to open a second location. All the way to Southtown.
If all goes as planned, doors will open at 1150 S. Alamo St. in spring of 2015.
"We're working on all the details, getting our ducks in a row," said Daniel Northcutt, who co-owns Frank with Geoff Peveto. He expects work inside the building to start gearing up in December this year. By then he hopes to have moved with his family to the King William neighborhood, or at least close by. "Anything close enough that I can hop on my skateboard or bike from ... We're going to be very hands-on."
Even over the phone, talking to a stranger on Friday night, Northcutt is energetic and he passionately described his vision to fit into the neighborhood's economic, cultural, and artistic fabric. Southtown is certainly not downtown Austin.
"We’re going there 100% understanding that this is a neighborhood," he said. "We want to add to the neighborhood while coexisting ... there are so many great things going on (in San Antonio) and we feel like we’ve got something to contribute. We want to jump in and play."
Casbeers at the Church – er, San Antone Cafe and Concerts as a 2009 lawsuit persuaded it to be – quickly became a staple of Southtown, but the beloved owners Barbara Wolfe and husband Steve Silbas encountered medical problems, and too many slow week nights eventually led to its closure. Before San Antone's 2008 move-in, the church was also home to another restaurant and theater. The building, now on the National Register of Historic Places, hasn't been a church since 1968.
Food, drink, music, and entertainment have fit nicely on this corner. Northcutt hopes to continue that legacy and preserve the church's historic nature.
He was introduced to the building through a friend and immediately fell in love, he said. After spending time in Southtown and several months of market research, he was sold.
"That building is in phenomenal condition and we will respect the historical character," he said. There are no plans to change anything about the exterior of the building. "We're not doing anything invasive at all ... we’re going to come in with lipstick. That's it."
Within the last decade, more so in the last five years, Southtown has undergone a revitalization of local business and new housing. No one has seen this transition more than the "Mayor of Southtown" Mike Casey.
"(Frank owners) have been careful to meet with the immediate neighbors. They don’t intend to do anything that's going to be offensive to the neighbors," he added. "It's going to be a great addition to the neighborhood."
"We would have never imagined back in '72 that all of this would be possible,” Casey said of the year he moved to Southtown. "I've watched it over the years ... I’m excited about it. To me, it’s a very positive thing.”
Perhaps San Antone was just a few years too early.
"We’re not going to be the loud guys,” Northcutt said. Frank will host live music and events several times a month, but "we're not doing crazy loud rock n' roll. It'll be in moderation, inside, and it will certainly be timely.
"Yeah, we do want to run a successful business and we do want to have a lot of people come in, but our (first) concern is the neighborhood and the folks that are living and raising families in the neighborhood,” he added. "We completely understand that there might be hesitancy with some folks that don’t know us, but they’ll soon see that they’re our number one priority."
The church was purchased by a group of San Antonio and Austin investors, an LLC managed by Greg Porter, who lives and invests in Austin. This is his first venture in San Antonio and, like Northcutt, came across it because of a friend who lived in the neighborhood. After dinner at Bliss and a drink at Hot Joy, they passed the 2,000 square-foot church on their way home and almost immediately called about it.
“(When investing), it's important to me that I love the neighborhood," he said. "I wasn’t trying to come in and make a mark. It was more like, 'What can fit in here?'”
The Southtown market is certainly not saturated with hot dogs.
"Frank is a perfect fit," Porter said. "A casual, affordable restaurant is really ideal – it's accessible to anybody (and) it continues the spirit of what some of the previous tenants were doing. My real, genuine, and sincere hope is that it’s accepted in that way."
It might be strange for a historic German neighborhood like King William not to welcome a good bratwurst.
*Featured/top image: The former church at 1150 S. Alamo St. Photo by Iris Dimmick.