Behind-the-scenes tour of Frisch's Commissary provides tasty preview of chain's Founder's Day

CINCINNATI - Step inside the onion slicing room at the Frisch's Big Boy Commissary and you know the restaurant chain's onion rings are fresh, since your eyes well up immediately.

Workers say they get used to the sensation after 15 minutes. And if not, they can always just step next door into the freezer and spend some time with those making Frisch's coleslaw.

Frisch's Big Boy invited local news media and bloggers to don hairnets for a rare behind-the-scenes tour and tasting at their Commissary on April 25. was the only local news outlet to tour the unassuming brick building in Walnut Hills, where the famous Big Boy sandwiches and pumpkin pies are born.

The tour was in honor of the restaurant's May 3 Founders Day, when patrons can dress up as Big Boy and get free sandwiches. 

Frisch's: A family business

At Frisch's it's all in the family, which is a mixed blessing.

"So when you're very young, and you're part of Frisch's, at first you're embarrassed because you don't want anybody to know who you are because the first thing they tell you is they had a bad meal," said Karen Maier, vice president of marketing for Frisch's. "And you can't do anything about it because you're a kid."

Maier is one of eight Frisch children. She grew up next door to six cousins in the part of Indian Hill that neighbors branded "Hamburger Hill."

"It's not until you come to work here and you see how the people who work here take pride in what they do, and it's the result of their efforts that make you successful. Then you say ‘It's OK for me to be proud of what I do,'" Maier said.

That sense of pride fills the Frisch's Commissary, where workers prepare everything from pie crusts to sandwich spices and fresh hamburgers that will be shipped out to Frisch's 93 restaurants in Columbus, Dayton, Louisville, Lexington and of course, Cincinnati.

Almost everything at Frisch's is fresh--save French fries and buns, Maier said. Most foods are cooked up at the Walnut Hills facility, where workers were preparing brownies, pie crusts and apple pie filling during the tour.

New times, new tastes

Along with established eats, the restaurant is always trying new things, even if some customers swear by store favorites.

Prime Time burgers and drive-thru breakfast sandwiches are two new concepts Frisch's Director of Research and Development Greg Grisanti has developed.

"There's a certain segment of your customer base that likes a certain thing, they're very habitual," Grisanti said. "I think the way to break through that is through constant driving home of a point," Grisanti added. "We do offer different things. So that when they're ready, when they see that table tent for third or fourth time, they think ‘Maybe I'll try it.'"

Maier herself has favorites, but admits it's hard to just pick one.

"That's like somebody choosing their favorite child," she said. "When I was a kid it was chili spaghetti, (but) there is nothing better than a hot Big Boy right off the grill, which is what we're hearing from the people at (Great American Ball Park)"

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