Abraham Franks finds his true calling as a pitmaster in Ovilla after a stressful career in Vegas.
Abraham Franks got an early education in smoked meats growing up in Lockhart, the barbecue capital of Texas, but he set off to find his fortune in Las Vegas. After he moved there with his brother in the eighties to start a drywall and painting company, business went well for a while, but in 2002 the Franks felt the squeeze from larger competitors. The business suffered, and Abraham went from a six-figure salary to chasing hourly wage jobs. When he couldn’t keep up payments on two mortgages and several cars, Franks channeled his upbringing and tried his hand at barbecue to make extra money, but it wasn’t working. The stress mounted until it sent him to the hospital.
“They called it a stress attack,” Franks recalled from the conversation with doctors after he woke up on a gurney in 2002. He had been finishing up a barbecue pit in a friend’s garage when he felt faint. “I blinked a couple times, and whatever it was took me,” he said. Later, his friend told him he slid off his chair onto the floor after his fists clenched and his body tightened. At the hospital, Franks learned that his body had squeezed itself so tight that both shoulders were broken. He still has a screw in one shoulder to prove it.
His close scare only made him more resolved to try the barbecue business. “After that, my drive was still there,” said Franks, who finished his own barbecue pit after healing. The barbecue in Vegas wasn’t very good (and still isn’t), so he thought it might be his ticket to financial recovery. He did all the catering jobs he could find, but it wasn’t enough. “If you don’t know the right people there, get out quick,” Franks said of Vegas—both about the drywall and the barbecue business.
Call it an underappreciated gem. Franks Holy Smoke Bar-B-Que, located in a former general store 25 miles south of Dallas in tiny Ovilla, is worth the drive.
The best part, barbecue fanatics? No wait.
Many die-hard barbecue fans are used to waiting an hour, maybe more, to eat brisket at well-known Texas barbecue joints. But at Franks, in a town where the speed of life can feel like slow motion compared to Dallas, customers generally won't find a long line.
The chopped beef sandwich is the bestseller, says owner Abraham Franks. It's thick enough to be a bargain at $12, but it costs half that. The shop's all-beef sausage comes from Lockhart Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que. And the ribs are worth trying, even if they're not be photogenic enough to get hundreds of likes on Instagram.
Franks is OK with that. "I'm not into pretty," he says.
The 55-year-old raised in one of Texas' best barbecue cities, Lockhart, says he's been smoking meat all his life. "As a kid, I used to steal meat from my mama's freezer and take it to my cousin's house," Franks says. "We'd set up bricks and whatnot. You know how those old fans had metal frames? We'd take those from broken fans and use that as a grill."
By the '80s, Franks had a pit and realized he was on to something. But he was enjoying a career as a commercial painter and didn't get around to opening Franks Holy Smoke until 2011.