Who is Big Boy? Well we all know what he does. He’s a carhop for one of our oldest hometown ‘diners’- Frisch’s. That’s easy. He’s had one leg up on the competition, burger in hand, for more than half a century. He brought the tartar-sauced double decker burger to Cincinnati from the West Coast – where he was thousand-island dressed – and into our collective Queen City hearts.
His fish sandwich spawned the McDonald’s fish sandwich at Rob Grouen’s Monfort Heights franchise to gain the local Catholic bite during pre-Vatican II meatless Fridays. His Brawny Lad spawned an entire Scottish burger chain called Sandy’s. He even ignited a lookalike local chain called Big Mamma’s. Numerous chains came and went, trying to ride on his overalls. But nearly seventy five years later, the icon is bringing us some amped-up hometown comfort food we all so desperately need during this Pandemic. This is about five years into being sold by the Frisch grandchildren and being owned by an out of town conglomerate.
But Is he Irish, Scottish, English Puritan, Welsh Fisherman, Creole, Bavarian, Ashkenazi Jewish, or Scandinavian? Never since 1953 when he donned a kilt and bobby hat have we seen such a costume parade of the Frisch’s Big Boy mascot. And I have to give a shout out to the Big Boy online marketing team for providing this parade of Big Boys. It’s like we have a Mannekin Pis like they do in Brussels Belgium that sports an appropriate costume for each season or holiday. Except ours is not holding his …um …you-know-what, he’s holding a double decker.
He was Bavarian when he introduced the Oktoberfest Big Boy. He was an Ashkenazi Jewish schoolboy when he introduced the corned beef sandwich. He was a Welsh Fisherman when he introduced the new line of fish sandwiches, which hadn’t been updated since their 1947 introduction. Maybe he should have a sea shanty written in his honor on Tik Tok.
Is he a West Sider, East Sider? Does he have Northern Kentucky roots like a lot of us? What sport is he the biggest super fan – soccer, baseball, football, basketball? Is he East Coast or West Coast. The answer is he’s American. He’s all of them.
Sure Frisch’s has a way to go to be true to their legacy and pre-buyout quality, but as much flack as I’ve given them (over choosing a non-local brewery to partner with for their beer cheese on their Oktoberfest burger) they’re doing a good job updating a flat menu.
But how do you update a nearly 75 year old local yocal restaurant to keep it fresh and relevant?
Yes, their quality has gone down a bit, with QSR cost mentality of its new owner, and something they really need to put diligence back into. But their creativity has gone through the roof. There are now three fish sandwiches to choose from, although they’re mostly the same thing with different tartar sauce. They have nearly a dozen new big boys double deckers. They’ve even made a pumpkin spice version of their hot fudge cake. I heard someone yesterday arguing that you cant put avocado on a Big Boy (like they do with he California Big boy). What about a goetta Big Boy? I’d be game with that. But then the debate would be – do you dress it with ketchup, jelly, or maple syrup? That might start something like the Pumpkin Pie wars of the 2010’s with Busken Bakery. That feud even made it to the New York Times.
When they do a Nashville hot fish sandwich and have a African American Big Boy, or when they do a Tandoori chicken sandwich and have an Indian Big Boy, or when Big Boy dons drag and they have a Pride Burger – then I’ll bow down to their marketing genius.