Frank Willis left Los Angeles for Albuquerque more than 20 years ago, but he never lost his appetite for the food he grew up eating.
Oh, how he missed fried chicken and waffles.
“I fiended for it when I would go home,” Willis says. “I figured the best way to get it (in Albuquerque) is for me to do it myself.”
And so he has.
He says he spent the past 20 years honing his own recipe, one he says reflects his own taste along with the culinary influence of his mother, grandmother and aunt.
But it was only about a year ago – partly out of financial necessity – that he began thinking of his fried chicken as a business opportunity.
“I started asking people what they thought,” he says of his idea to sell his product, “and everybody said, ‘Yeah, we need that here.'”
In January, Willis launched a food delivery business, shuttling the homemade fried-chicken-and-waffles plates to customers around Albuquerque. And when demand began overwhelming the mobile service, he took the idea a step further and opened a sit-down, soul-food restaurant.
“We got so popular, we needed somewhere for people to come,” he says.
Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles opened last month at 513 San Mateo NE. It’s the hard-to-miss, mustard-colored building north of Copper.
At Frank’s, patrons can get an order of six wings and two waffles for $10 or go full tilt with the 12-wing, two-waffle plate for $15.
Other offerings include shrimp and grits, hot links in a (waffle) blanket, and side dishes like macaroni and cheese and collard greens with smoked turkey.
“It’s something different,” Willis says of his menu. “We’ve got plenty of green and red chile spots all over town.”
He may have dubbed his chicken “famous,” but the 6-foot-7-inch Willis already may be familiar to locals. It was the University of New Mexico basketball team that brought him to Albuquerque back in the early 1990s, and he played with the Lobos from 1991-94.
He has been in the Duke City ever since, working a plethora of jobs, including security and as a professional DJ and producer. It was a slowdown in his DJ gigs that helped precipitate the food enterprise.
“I was down to my last $150 and I said, ‘OK, we’re open,'” says Willis, who runs the restaurant with his younger sister, Tiffany.
Music remains one of Willis’ passions, and it serves as the restaurant’s theme.
Old record sleeves and cassette tapes hang as wall decor, and Willis has provided customers with an eclectic array of albums in almost every imaginable format – even 8-tracks! – that they can pop into the stereos that dot the dining room.
Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Delivery is still available. The phone number is 712-5109.
Daily Grind adds nights
A lot has changed recently at The Daily Grind.
The Albuquerque coffee shop and restaurant has moved to bigger digs, expanded its menu, added a beer and wine license, and lengthened its hours to include dinner.
The Daily Grind relocated from EDo to Midtown last month, and its new 4,000-square-foot space offers roughly four times as much indoor capacity as its old site, plus a large patio next to a pond.
“We kind of felt like we weren’t able to grow, and now we are able to grow,” says general manager Jennifer Rogers, whose parents, Nancy and Mike Rogers, founded The Daily Grind in 1996.
The new site at Cutler and Washington NE features a full kitchen, enabling chef Leah Purucker to introduce heartier dinner fare such as the Mahi Mahi tacos ($12), steak and frites ($20), burgers ($9-10) and a range of appetizers like crab cakes ($9) and green chile cheese fries ($7).
“We’re trying to be more than a coffee shop,” Purucker says.
Rogers says The Daily Grind always has been more than a place for coffee and baked goods. Though the traditional coffee-shop fare remains – including her mom’s popular raspberry and blueberry scones – The Daily Grind also has a breakfast menu that includes huevos rancheros and pancakes, and offers a lineup of sandwiches, salads and paninis for the lunch crowd.
Longtime customers will recognize many of the items from The Daily Grind’s Downtown location and its original site at San Pedro and Candelaria.
And though the new space has a far-more-modern flair with a corrugated metal siding, high ceilings and brightly painted walls, Rogers says The Daily Grind wants to retain its homey vibe and local flavor. It serves New Mexico beef and offers local beer and wine, and even used area artists for its dining tables and server uniforms.
“We never want to grow so big that we are not who we used to be,” Rogers says. “We want to be a very family, close-knit restaurant, and I think we’re staying true to that.”
The Daily Grind is located 4360 Cutler NE, next to Calibers. It is open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 883-8310.
After nearly 50 years in business, Albuquerque’s only Sizzler restaurant closed quietly this summer.
Kimberly Choi – whose husband Jean bought the local Sizzler franchise in 1982 – says the economy was a factor in the closure. The restaurant, she says, had been at 7212 Menaul NE since 1966.
Its 5,000-square-foot building is currently being offered for lease.
Choi says there are no plans to open another Sizzler in town.
And farewell, Landry’s
As I recently reported online, the only Landry’s Seafood House in Albuquerque shuttered in late September. Claim Jumper – a California-based chain also owned by Landry’s Inc. – is slated to open in the same space, 5001 Jefferson NE, in December.
“We are grateful for the (17) exceptional years that Landry’s Seafood has served the local community, and are excited to offer a new concept for our diners to enjoy,” Terry Turney, Claim Jumper’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, said in an email to the Journal. “At this time, there are no immediate plans to build additional locations in Albuquerque.”
Also from my blog
- The Standard Diner introduced breakfast last month. The EDo eatery is now opening at 7 a.m. daily and dishing out morning-friendly options like blue corn waffles ($7.50), huevos rancheros ($8.75), omelets and eggs benedict. The Standard Diner is located at 320 Central SE.
- Rey’s Place and La Familiar – a pair of restaurants owned, respectively, by Michael Rey and his wife Luz Molinar – have merged. Rey closed his business on Edith and moved the operation to his wife’s location at 1611 4th NW.
The new Rey’s Place & La Familiar New Mexican Restaurant offers menu items popularized at each location, including New Mexican, Mexican and American food.