The 10th anniversary of the sheet-metal clad restaurant wing of Franklin's restaurant, brewery and general store brought hundreds of customers inside for special treats and a behind the scenes peek at the beer-making process.
Franklin's first opened nearly 20 years ago as a deli and general store. With a cache of good sandwiches, quirky gifts and an extensive stock of wine and hot sauce, the establishment quickly became popular in a downtown Hyattsville long bereft of exciting food choices.
Mike Franklin, owner of the self-titled restaurant, brewery and general store, said the idea to expand from a deli and general store to a full service restuarant and brewery goes back at least 15 years. Five years later, in 2002, the restaurant opened, expanding the Franklin's empire to cover (and regularly seat to capacity) thousands of feet of space devoted to good food and good suds.
Both have captured the attention of residents along the Baltimore Avenue corridor.
Mark Polnasek of Adelphi said that he's been coming to Franklin's for five years now. Today he ordered a reuben, noting that he can't even eat the entire sandwich, the portions are so generous. He washed down his rueben with a Twisted Turtle beer.
"This is a real treat," said Polnasek, who used to be an avid home-brewer. "Nobody made beer like I did, except these guys."
Franklin said there were two motivations to expand. One, if he was to continue to do the same amount of business as a deli and general store he was going to have to expand anyway. Two, he looked around and noticed a lack of quality dining options in the route one corridor.
"The idea was to have a place where you could have a burger or have something a little nicer," said Franklin.
It was a steep investment. Franklin said he had to re-mortgage his properties to borrow the $1.3 million necessary to establish the restaurant and brewery.
Was it profitable?
"We're still here," laughs Franklin. "It's never as profitable as you think it's going to be, but we're still here."
For the success of the expanded establishment, Franklin sings the praises of his top chef Marc Heckrotte and his top brewmaster Mike Roy.
Roy, a two year employee at Franklin's, is as vital to the business as the kitchen, said Franklin.
"It's a craftsman type of thing. Equivalent to having a chef," said Franklin. "I feel like Mike is a talented chef of beers."
Prior to Roy coming aboard, the brewery was run by Charles Noll.
The restaurant has also staked a claim as one of the better contemporary kitchens in the area. Franklin attributed all of that to Heckrotte. With six years experience working at Franklin's, Heckrotte has provided the consistent culinary leadership necessary to establish the restaurant as a regional landmark.
Looking down the road, Franklin says that in another 10 years he'd like to see the business grow into a small beer distributor, crafting brews with local ingredients.
"I envision us distributing beer in D.C. and Maryland," said Franklin. "Not on a large scale, on a small scale. I also see us able to do some brews with local hops and local barley."
For now, Franklin will continue to actively oversee his empire. As this interview ended, conducted in a rare lull in traffic in the late afternoon, Franklin sprang from the chair and got back to running his restaurant, brewery and general store.