Classic rides and rockabilly-garbed patrons kept the iconic Fran’s Hamburgers on South Congress hoppin’ and rockin’ Saturday night. It could have been a scene from the movie “Grease.”
But reigning silently over the busy scene with her guitar scepter and tray of food, the diner’s landmark red-haired statue kept mum on the sad news: Saturday was Fran’s Hamburgers last dinner service at its South Congress location.
Manager Ed Terrazas, who is also Fran’s son, said that after 40 years, the family decided not to renew the restaurant’s lease. He did not know what would become of the property on the northwest corner of Mary Street and South Congress Avenue following their departure.
Fran’s was open for lunch Sunday but closed after about four hours because the food supplies ran out.
“Now I’m really sad they were out of the onion rings,” diner Dan Powell said Sunday when he was told of the restaurant’s closure.
Powell, his wife Alison and 7-year-old daughter Danielle hold Fran’s in high regard. The family lives near Cedar Park but drives to South Austin for Fran’s burgers and onion rings.
“It has an old-time, hometown feel. We love this place,” Alison Powell said.
Many diners Sunday stood outside the red and white building, snapping pictures of the sign and of the nine-foot-tall waitress statue atop the weathered, red awning.
Fran’s Hamburgers opened in 1973 as Dan’s Hamburgers. It was started by Dan and Frances Junk, but when the couple divorced in 1990, they split their assets and Frances kept the South Congress eatery.
There are now three Dan’s Hamburgers restaurants in Austin and one in Buda. One Fran’s Hamburgers remains in Northeast Austin, at 6214 Cameron Road.
Dan Junk died in 1998. The businesses remain family-owned.
Terrazas said employees of Fran’s on South Congress will transfer to the other Fran’s Hamburgers location or have found jobs elsewhere. He said his mother has mixed emotions about the closure of their first location.
“All of her kids and their friends grew up here. She’s fed a lot of people,” Terrazas said.
For years, a carved, wooden sign hanging inside the restaurant summed up Fran Junk’s feelings. It stated: “This old restaurant was built on memories and promises, but it can stand a thousand years.”
Terrazas was 16 when the restaurant opened. In its infancy, there were drive-in diners and car hops in lieu of a dining room. He said his best memories in the diner are the more recent tapings of the television show “Friday Night Lights.”
“We’re going to miss the customers. I’ve seen kids coming to eat here grow up, and then they come back with their own kids,” Terrazas said.
Aaron Quintanilla, 43, was one of those customers. He was a frequent visitor when he attended Fulmore Middle School, across the street from the restaurant.
“I bring my kids here all the time,” Quintanilla said. “I come here with my mom during the week. It’s hard to believe it’s closing.”
His young daughters finished up their fries on one of Fran’s outdoor picnic tables Saturday night, while he described his favorite meal: a large burger with mustard and fried mushrooms.
“South Congress has changed so much, but Fran’s stayed — it had that traditional Austin vibe about it,” Quintanilla said. “It’s going to feel weird without it.”