Francis gets its name from a plucky pig—an indefatigable hog who escaped the slaughterhouse in the summer of 1990, becoming a fugitive and a folk hero in the process. It looks like some of his luck may have rubbed off on the vegan burger joint.
Lindsey Johnston, Garrett Born, and Brendan Viele have occupied the culinary incubator trailer at Sociable Cider Werks for almost a year now, following a series of successful tenants that includes Union Hmong Kitchen and Sammy's Avenue Eatery. But the food trailer was always temporary; they knew they wanted to move into a brick-and-mortar eventually.
The search for a space proved tricky—until earlier this year. When Francis was featured in a Star Tribune round-up, Johnston mentioned they were looking for a brick-and-mortar building in Northeast. Not long after, Sen Yai Sen Lek and Dipped & Debris owners Joe and Holly Hatch-Surisook approached them. Turns out that after 14 years, they were looking to leave their Northeast address, and they wanted the right tenants to succeed them there. Was Francis interested?
Oh buddy, they sure were. Well, with some trepidation: "We remain concerned about how people might feel about either of those spots being replaced, because they were so loved in the community, and so good," Johnston says. "We're like, 'Well, we hope people don't feel like we did this!'"
Taking over 2422 Central Ave. NE in the Holland neighborhood puts Francis in an area that doesn't have a ton of vegan food. That's great for vegans, of course, but it's great news for meat-eaters, too, who make up the bulk of Francis's customers at Sociable. It also means they'll no longer have to helm the flattop in a swelteringly hot, black-vinyl-wrapped trailer.
"I'm really excited about some temperature control," Johnston chuckles. "We thought getting through the winter was going to be the hard part, but... we never closed in the winter because it was too cold, we've closed twice [in the summer] because it's like, we can't do this."
The Francis team is keeping it simple, sticking with burgers and fries, a chicken sandwich, and maybe a few salads, plus ice cream and milkshakes to round out the quintessential burger-dive vibe. (Everything, of course, will be vegan.) They'll have a full bar with a robust and thoughtful bar program, including house cocktails and boozy milkshakes. Brunch is a possibility one of these days, but they know their focus is on those tasty, plant-based burgers.
Francis will still be slingin' burgs at Sociable through September 12, and they haven't started construction at the new space yet (Johnston says you can expect they'll open sometime this fall). Keep your eyes on their social pages, because soon they'll be crowdfunding their soft-serve machine with a few fun perks for supporters.
Getting the community involved, making them feel welcomed—that's something the Hatch-Surisooks did naturally and gracefully for more than a decade at Sen Yai Sen Lek. Johnston hopes their meat-free spot will carry on that legacy.
"They're truly some of the best humans I've met. If you have to have landlords—they're just really kind, caring people," she says. "We feel really good about continuing on the love and community part of what they were doing in a different form."