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Meet Bill & Johnnie Katz of Frankie’s Downtown and The Underground

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bill & Johnnie Katz.

Bill was a U.S. Army Blackhawk pilot and retired after 20 years of service in 2001. He and his wife, Johnnie, had been married since 1982. Johnnie had in banking for 20 years. They had spent 20 years traveling the globe spending 9 of those years overseas in Europe and Asia. After retiring from the military, they settled in the metroplex and got regular jobs; Bill as an engineer, Johnnie as a bank manager. Then…she got bored. She wanted her own business. Since she had supported him in his endeavors for two decades, he knew it was his turn to support her so she started looking for her niche.

Johnnie looked at start-ups, franchises, existing businesses–you name it. When the opportunity to purchase the original Frankie’s on McKinney Avenue in Uptown Dallas was presented they knew it was a fit. Within four years of taking over in December of 2003, they turned Frankie’s into the number one sports bar in DFW; tripling sales and becoming a staple on the Uptown scene. In 2009, a new Frankie’s was opened in Lewisville. Over the next six years, the new Frankie’s became the favorite spot for many Lewisville locals but the Texas Department of Transportation had other plans that included widening the road and turning Frankie’s Lewisville into a connecting overpass from Hwy-121 South to I-35E Northbound. During that same period, Frankie’s in Uptown has closed its doors; vowing to return as soon as it could. The closing of the Lewisville store in April 2015 presented that opportunity. Bill & Johnnie set out to build the biggest and best Frankie’s ever and, in August 2015, Frankie’s Downtown was opened in the Heart of the Dallas Business District on Main Street. Since that time, Frankie’s Downtown has been hailed as the number sports bar in Dallas by both D Magazine and The Dallas Observer.

The Underground boasts live music and DJ’s during the week and on weekends. The all-scratch kitchen serves everything from Pesto Crusted Salmon to late night pizza with dough and sauce made in house daily. Draft beer selections include 20 Texas craft brews and the hand-crafted, fresh-ingredient cocktail menu was concocted with the help of none other than master mixologist: Eddie “Lucky” Campbell. From humble beginnings, Bill & Johnnie have created what D Magazine has called, “…that rare thing in Dallas: a real neighborhood bar.” Not a high-end gastropub. Not a dive bar. Frankie’s has become a place to meet with old friends and make new ones. It has become Downtown’s Living Room.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The biggest challenge was that neither Bill nor Johnnie had ANY experience in the service industry. First, they had to borrow money from the SBA, friends and family. Then they had to learn everything from scratch–the HARD way. The first two years consisted of open-to-close 120+ hour weeks. Staffing and learning to grow as the business grew. Bartenders stealing, underage servers drinking, customers demanding. Learning to deal with avid (rabid) fans and that you couldn’t please everybody. It was like drinking out of a firehose. In Uptown, they had to learn how to deal with an ever-changing and rotating clientele. Trying to grow and start a restaurant from scratch was their biggest challenge in Lewisville. Again–NO EXPERIENCE. Common sense and perseverance were the only things that kept them alive. Nothing in their 20 years of marriage or professional careers had prepared them for this. Then came the disappointment of the Lewisville closure. That was like a sucker-punch to the gut. Finding a new location took almost six months. The new location was in an almost 100 year old building that required special permitting, special contracting and a back & forth with TXDot to try and get everyone paid; all while–AGAIN–borrowing money from friends and family. Obstacles? Challenges? Its all part of this industry.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Frankie’s Downtown and The Underground – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Frankie’s Downtown is THE premiere sports bar in Dallas. Some are bigger, some are older, some have more TV’s, but NONE have the atmosphere and ability to show as many games to as many people in an intimate setting. With 44 HD displays and all the major DirecTV sports packages, fans are the top priority at Frankie’s. Dallas local? Don’t be silly–of course the Cowboys/Rangers/Mavericks/Stars are on! In from out of town for a convention? We have your home team right over here! The combination of our cocktails, beer selection and scratch kitchen selections put us head and shoulders above all other contenders. Frankie’s is known for its warm, friendly service and their ability to make guests feel like friends and friends feel like family. The decor is strictly “Dallas”. Step inside and you’ll instantly know that there’s no place else you could be. In keeping with the historical Davis building motif, the original (1930’s) bank floor has been preserved and incorporated into the retro-industrial theme. A shining, “75202–DOWNTOWN” gleams from the back wall in case there was any doubt. Frankie’s is most proud of the fact that it can be so many things to so many people. A sports bar. A restaurant. A place for lunch, brunch dinner or late night. A pub. A live music venue. Even an amazing place for a first date. What sets Frankie’s apart is it does so much and it does them all top-notch.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Frankie’s has plans to enhance its musical line-up in the downstair portion known as, “The Underground.” With its throwback, prohibition, speakeasy ambiance, The Underground offers the perfect venue for live performance with a personal feel. Additionally, Frankie’s has plans to expand its catering and delivery programs. Known for having the best pizza in Downtown, delivery could be a way for residents to enjoy Frankie’s from the comfort of their own home. Additionally, The Underground has the ability to host private functions with full food service and its own bar for parties of over 100 people.

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Getting in touch: VoyageDallas is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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