Frisch’s, Fond Memories and Some History - by Diane Clark, February 2022

The first Westside Frisch’s location opened in 1951 in front of Phillips Swim Club. It was an immediate hit providing teens with a destination to hangout and go “crusin” thru the parking lot while also offering an affordable place for post war families to gather and eat.

Local residents loved the novel idea of eating in their cars, served by car hops.  All in all, it was a radical new type of restaurant and people loved it.  Even my father, who rarely took his family out to dinner had to give it a try. We parked in one of the designated bays, gave our order over an intercom and waited for the carhop to bring our food on a tray, which attached to the driver’s window.  The “Big Boy” was the ultimate sandwich and too big for me back then.  I could only handle a cheeseburger and fries. But what a meal that was!

In 1969 a new, larger Frisch’s was built directly across the street.  It became THE destination for teens.  Ida Renner, a 1966 Western Hills graduate and historical society member, shared memories from this time in a previous PHHS article: “I remember sitting there in a car with friends and we’d watch who drove through; the muscle cars were the cool ones with split exhaust, mufflers and “glass packs” that sounded good.  There was a speed bump right at the corner of the building and all the souped-up cars would stop and rev their engines so that everyone would look.  Then back at the turn there was another speed bump.  That’s where they smoked their tires.” Those were the days.  Good times, good memories, too cool, being a teen with a souped-up car.

But everything changes, this building was replaced with another in 1996, larger and farther back on the same property, but without car hops, whose popularity had waned.  This is today’s Frisch’s restaurant.

Frisch’s is synonymous with tartar sauce, their mascot “Big Boy” and pumpkin pie. Adding tartar sauce to their sandwiches was highly popular and set them apart from other burger chains.  In 2017 Frisch’s successfully lobbied for a National Tartar Sauce Day, the first Friday in Lent.  In 2016, as customers became more health conscious, our familiar, rotund, Big Boy got a do over.  With a leaner mascot, Frisch’s emphasized fresh foods, which included their salad bar, soups and premium hamburgers.  In 2021 they baked 150,000 pumpkin pies, which is about 1 million slices!  The restaurant has been a mainstay on the westside of Cincinnati for over 70 years.  Since the pandemic, indoor hours at the Western Hills location are limited to breakfast and lunch but the drive thru remains open in the evenings.

The Frisch family endeavors in food service predate the Frisch’s Big Boy. Samuel Frisch opened Frisch Cafe on Freeman Ave in 1905, closing it 5 years later. Ten years later, in 1915, he opened Frisch Stag Lunch in Norwood. His son, David, left school to work in his dad’s restaurant. When his dad died in 1923, he, at the age of 20, along with his brothers, assumed full time operation.

In 1930 David branched out on his own and in 1939 he opened the area’s first year-round drive-in in Norwood where there was room for eight customers inside and sixty cars outside. David regularly worked in his restaurants. He bused tables, cooked, loaded the dishwasher, talked with customers, all of which helped him build the lasting chain.  

In 1946, he met Bob Wian, the founder of the original Big Boy chain in Glendale, California, who introduced him to a double-decker hamburger called the “Big Boy.”  He gave Frisch permission to use this concept with the addition of Frisch’s special formula tartar sauce. The Big Boy became an instant hit with his customers.

Soon after this meeting, Frisch and Wian entered a franchise agreement under which Frisch would become the exclusive franchisor of Frisch's Big Boy restaurants in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida. Frisch incorporated his business in 1947 and the following year opened his first Cincinnati Big Boy Mainliner on Wooster Pike. When he passed away in 1970, his son-in-law, Jack Maier took over as President. His son, Craig Maier assumed leadership in 1989. In 2015 the company was sold to NRD Capital.

We’ll end with just a few stats. Frisch’s Restaurants Inc went public in 1960, had 200 locations in 1961, in 2017, there were 6955 employees and sales of 289.9 million in 2021.

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