When Steve Freidkin and his partner Jim Mitchell opened their Texas-style steakhouse on 16th Street and Bethany in late 1985, they didn't even have chicken-fried steak on their menu. Freidkin grew up in the beef business in Texas and Louisiana, so running a steak-centric restaurant seemed like a no-brainer.
But he and Mitchell, who drew inspiration from various grungy, cluttered steakhouses in Texas hadn't counted on the power of the restaurant's name (called Lone Star Steaks before the corporate entity of the same name made legal threats) or The Lone Star flag flying at the front door. Homesick Texans arrived in droves, all of them asking for chicken-fried steak.
After a month of fielding the same tiresome question, Freidkin broke down and made chicken-fried steak a Monday lunch special. His business took off. He added it to Wednesday night's roster as well, waiting something like seven years to actually put the signature Texas specialty on the menu.
Not that the man lacks for business acumen. By the time he was 10, Freidkin was cutting corned beef at his family's grocery store deli department in Shreveport, and by 12, he was "pulling beer," although he admits that might not have been legal -- even in Louisiana. By then, his family owned a small kosher deli in a small Southern town inhabited by maybe 200 Jewish families. "Not a smart move on my Dad's part," Freidkin admits, but by then, the boy had become inured to the food business, taking his first restaurant job at a Steak and Ale as a dishwasher. Although he dabbled around in Social Work in junior college, Freidkin always worked in restaurants, most notably the Victoria Station in Dallas, which was as wildly popular there as the one here back in the 70's. Freidkin took over the kitchen after three months, staying with the company for three years as they moved him from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver to Illinois to open and troubleshoot restaurants.