Lovingly prepared dishes, cordial service, friendly atmosphere, a vast menu and “the best biscuits in the world” are keys to the success of Frank’s Restaurant which observed its 50th year of operation on May 28.
The big, bustling eatery at 8353 Airline Highway in Baton Rouge has provided lavish breakfasts and hearty lunches to a diverse crowd of customers representing some of the area’s top shakers and makers in the political, industrial and business world.
Open at 5 a.m. seven days a week, it averages 500 customers a day who enjoy the menu’s large selection of down-home fare. The two dining rooms can accommodate up to 200 people.
Founded by Frank Dedman Sr. and his wife, Carolyn, on May 28, 1964, the business was originally known as the Blue Bird Drive-In and was across Airline Highway from the current location. It’s now in its third generation of family ownership and is beginning its fourth generation of loyal customers.
The business has been owned by Frank Dedman Jr. and his wife, Cathy, since 1999. Their three children, Jennifer Guerin, Frank Dedman III and Ross Dedman are all involved in its operation. Their son-in-law, Brent Guerin, is manager.
The family opened a similar restaurant with an identical menu, also called Frank’s, at 17425 Airline Highway in Prairieville in 2004 with a separate building housing a large reception center. Frank Dedman III and Ross Dedman operate the Prairieville restaurant. Their sister is responsible for the business details and payroll for both operations.
Citing the success of the business, Frank Dedman Sr. said, “We’re a family operation, and we’ve always given it a personal touch. We’ve built up our business through the years by getting to know our customers, remembering how they like their eggs, remembering what they wanted. Our waitresses — all of the servers — have to be professional. They’ve built up a real fellowship with their customers through the years.”
Although practically every Louisiana-style dish is available, Frank Dedman Jr., cites the restaurant’s large, light, creamy buttermilk biscuit as the culinary super star of the establishment’s large and diverse menu. He said his father worked on the recipe for a year after beginning the business to get the biscuits “just right.”
Frank Dedman Jr. said, “We like to call them the best ‘homemade’ biscuits in the world,” citing statistics that prove Frank’s customers’ unwavering affection for one of the South’s most treasured foods. They make 600 to 700 buttermilk-style biscuits every day, requiring 70 pounds of flour daily and gallons of buttermilk.
“We begin rolling them out at 3 a.m. when the family arrives,” Dedman said. “They’re then placed in the refrigerator so they can be baked as needed. That way they‘re always good and fresh.”
Some diners use the large biscuit, which come two to a serving, as a base for their meal, especially at breakfast, ordering them with ham or sausages; with chicken fried steak or Cajun-style shrimp or with a choice of grilled cheese. For a sweet treat the biscuits are available stuffed with strawberry, blueberry or apple filing topped with powdered sugar.
Among Frank’s most popular items through the years are the six hot lunch daily specials, which include a fried seafood plate, red beans and rice with homemade sausage and chicken fried steak. In addition to the hot meals, the menu offers soups, salads, gumbo, po-boys, sandwiches and every possible breakfast choice, including omelets, pancakes and French toast. And Cathy Dedman said, “If a customer wants something special, and it’s not on the menu, we’ll try to prepare it.”
In the late 1980s the Dedmans purchased a building on an adjacent lot and turned it into a large smokehouse which supplies a variety of smoked meats and fresh sausages for the restaurant. The smoked products, which include brisket, ham, turkey, whole pigs, ribs and turducken, are also available directly to customers.
As a young man, Frank Dedman Sr. was introduced to the restaurant business working for the family who owned the three Hoppers Drive–In operations in Baton Rouge.
After holding several positions through the years at Hoppers, Dedman decided to go out on his own, opening the first Blue Bird Drive-In on Airline and later one on Nicholson Drive and another on Plank Road. He made his own ice cream at the Airline location, supplying it to all of his locations.
The 1950s-era drive-in concept with car-hops serving ice cream, milk shakes, sandwiches and burgers was fading by the mid-60s, Frank Dedman Sr. said, and he wanted to make a complete change. Few places were selling biscuits, so he decided to switch from ice cream and shakes to biscuits and breakfasts. He opened at 5 a.m. to catch the early workers on Airline, and served lunch later in the day, but not evening meals.
The big breakfast concept caught on, the customers came and the business prospered. He changed the name to Frank’s in 1972, and in 1983 purchased a tract across Airline and to construct the 5,000-square-foot building that now houses his eatery.
“The area around Baton Rouge has the best food in the world, and Baton Rouge people really know good food. They know what they like,” Frank Dedman Sr. said. “That’s what makes the restaurant business so very competitive here.”
“We’re a family operation, and we knew we had to work hard and offer a personal touch to encourage business,” he said. “In addition to our good food, we’ve always had professional servers, many have been with us for years. We made it our business to know our customers and develop a personal relationship. That’s what built our business.”
He added, “We know our business can’t be franchised because it takes a personal touch in addition to the food. The style of our business has stayed the same, and it’s not going to change now. When you have a winner, you stay with it.”
Hours for the Airline Highway restaurant are 5 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. seven days a week. The telephone is (225) 926-5977.
Prairieville hours are 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and Monday. The telephone is (225) 673-8876.