Fat Franks Southern Diner
Fat Franks Southern Diner was a cajun restaurant in Braamfontein where I worked between 89-91.
The music was a huge part of the experience. The shift always started with Ella & Louis ‘Can’t we be friends?’. Hearing the opening piano intro brings back visions of wooden barrels, terracotta tiles, dim lights, and the smells of spicy nachos and warm muffins. The night or shift always ended off with The Ink Spots, the perfect ‘its time for you to fuck off home’ music.
In between was a mish-mash of old soul, rock n roll, cajun, and New Orleans inspired music. On weekends it jumped. There was occasional dancing and that thing that white people of a certain age do when they form a train and move through a venue…
The food was blackened fish, Jambalaya, Creole salad, crawfish, seafood gumbo, deep-fried ice cream, and a signature dessert drink called Mississippi Mud which was basically a Dom Pedro made with Southern Comfort instead of whiskey (which goes some way to explain the train thing…)
This playlist tries to capture a typical Friday lunch or weekend night which started off all chilled and respectable. It stayed like that for an hour or two. As the place filled up, the music got louder and more uptempo. By that time tables were at least a couple of bottles in and on desserts. Then Robin Williams would blast ‘Good Morning Vietnam!’ which signaled party time. This could last 60 – 90 minutes depending on the crowd. As the restaurant started naturally emptying out, the music dropped back and finished with The Ink Spots.
I hadn’t started DJing yet when I began working at Fat Franks, but the flow and build-up of the music (controlled rather successfully by the management) was a good template for putting a decent DJ set together – especially when playing alone for the whole night. Start off slow, build-up gradually, mix the genres, don’t get heavy or play all the hits too early, peak when the crowd peaks, and then slow it down for closing. Some of these songs found their way into mine and Charles Leonard’s REFORM! nights.
Click here for SPOTIFY playlist
More on Fat Franks:
Fat Franks was part of Ben Filmalter’s Linger Longer Group which consisted of Linger Longer and Leipoldts (which were both around the corner in Juta Street). They opened the Mexican themed Tijuana 220 in Rosebank sometime in the early 90s as well as Turtle Creek in Sandton and Rattlesnake Roadside Diner. Some of the Braamfontein restaurants may have relocated to Sandton as the area deteriorated. Linger Longer definitely did move to Sandton (Weirda Valley) and closed in 2011 after its part-owner and chef, Walter Ulz (who I fondly remember) passed away. Linger Longer had just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Walter had been part of it for 35 of those years. More HERE
When I started at Fat Franks, Jose de Concencau (spelling) was the manager assisted by Vernon. Jose left and opened a chicken place in Parkhurst. He was replaced by Steve of the brown patch leather jacked and cordless phone fame. There was an area manager called Wayne who later opened his own place called Saucalitos. As with any restaurant, there were loads of waiters and wine stewards: limping John Malgas, the other John who became a policeman and the barman upstairs who was built like a brick wall. I remember some waiters’ names: Deon Fourie, Joszka Nagy, Anthony, Chris the Creole, Wayne the redhead, Quentin Londt, Stephen Gunnion, Gregor (who I bought my first pair of Docs from), Johannes Kerkorrel’s partner whose name I can’t remember and many others. Most of us had long hair which was a bit of a quirk. The owner, Ben Filmalter, would often do the rounds as the restaurants were warming up for the night. He was respectfully referred to as ‘Mr. Ben’ and was the kind of person who could walk into a room and spot problems immediately.
There were two head chefs during my time there. The first was Warren who had short curly red hair. He left and was replaced by another guy with long hair, who may have also been a Warren.
The basic table sections were 1-7 & 10-21 downstairs and back row, 30s, & 40s upstairs. Each section had a waiter and wine steward. Fat Franks was open Mon – Fri for lunch and dinner and Saturday nights.
The clientele was upmarket. During the day it was the business crowd with their big BMWs with the latest gadget, the ‘car phone’. At night it was the well-to-do ‘Style Magazine’ crowd, restaurant critics, actors, and the like. It was always really busy and we made good tips in addition to the shift fee and a decent staff meal.
Maybe some of the finer details can be filled in via the comments section.
A weird coincidence: my future wife went there in 89 with her family and I made enough of an impression to squeeze a mention in her diary (even though I wasn’t their waiter)
The photo, courtesy of Andrew Wood, was taken outside the front door c1989. Patrick Talmage (RIP), Wayne, and Deon Fourie feature. The two women are friends of Andrew but I don’t recall their names (or the guy with the camera)
Update Nov 2020: Ben Filmalter and Jose have since passed away
Thanks for the memory. I worked around the corner at Liepolds about the same time, the food really was amazing, I ate at Fat Franks once, and had the Mississipi Mud.
If I remember correctly, Ben Filmalter, also opened Bacarats in Rosebank. I still remember him coming in once in a while to eat at the Leopolds, his way of making sure the food, service, and place was up to scratch.
Loved the food.
Thanks Eric! He opened Tijuana 220 in Rosebank and later Rattlesnake Diner in the east. Bacarats sound familiar but I’m not sure if it was one of his. I ate at both Leipoldts and Linger Longer. One could never fault the food in his restaurants.