The sign out front along North High Street is the only thing that remains from that day on Sept. 14, 1976 when the Frisch’s Big Boy in Hillsboro first opened its doors. But while many things have changed as the restaurant plans to celebrate its 40th birthday Wednesday, much is still the same.
For instance, Bill Polley was a manager when the restaurant opened four decades ago and he’s still the general manager today.
“It’s just a good place to work. I enjoy the employees. It’s family,” Polley said in describing why he’s stayed around so long.
Polley said he was working at the Frisch’s in Milford and had just gone into management when he heard a Frisch’s was going to open in Hillsboro. “I said, ‘I’m single. I’ll move up there,’” he said.
There are three other current employees, Polley said, who have worked at the Hillsboro Frisch’s for 20-plus years – Rachel Chamblin, Cindy Elam and Carol Grate.
Looking out the restaurant windows as he tried to remember what other businesses were on North High Street when Frisch’s opened, Polley said there wasn’t much. There was Sherwood Auto & Camper, a doctor’s office just across the street, and maybe the Pepsi plant, he said. “There wasn’t a lot. A lot of fields, an old cottonwood tree out front, but not a lot,” Polley said. “We were busy in those early days, no doubt about that. The community was definitely glad to see us come.”
In its original years the Hillsboro Frisch’s had curb service, or parking spaces customers could pull up to behind the restaurant and place orders through a radio system. Then Frisch’s employees, or what were often called car hops, would bring food to the car. Polley said that was replaced long ago with a drive through window.
In the 40 years since it opened, Polley said the business has expanded twice, once in the 1980s and again in the 1990s, and can now seat 164 customers as opposed to 95 when it opened. The number of employees has doubled, Polley said, to roughly 80 full- and part-timers today, and the soup and salad and breakfast bars were added after the business opened.
The menu has changed, too. Recently, Frisch’s rolled out a new lineup of Western Primetime Sandwiches that come in three styles: cheeseburger, grilled chicken and crispy chicken. They all feature real cheddar cheese, three hand-breaded onion rings, hickory-smoked bacon and Frisch’s new tangy Double B Low ’n Slow barbecue sauce, served on a butter-grilled brioche bun. It also plans to add some reuben sandwiches and a thick meat loaf sandwich to the menu.
“The menu changes all the time, but we always have the same old Big Boys, fries and chili,” Polley said.
The local restaurant’s most popular menu item by far, Polley said, is the classic Big Boy. He said it would be hard to tell what’s second, but he did say the Hillsboro location goes through about 40 gallons of chili each week.
Frisch’s hours have changed over the years, too. Polley said it used to have some later weekend hours, but now the Hillsboro store is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
“I’d like to thank the community for not only being good customers, but also supplying us with good employees,” Polley said. “I’d like to think we’ve maintained a good customer base because we deliver good food at a reasonable price.”
Founded in 1939, Frisch’s Big Boy restaurants are located in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. NRD Capital, a private equity firm based in Atlanta, Ga., acquired the company in August 2015. Frisch’s operates 95 Big Boy restaurants and franchises another 25 restaurants to independent operators.
The Hillsboro location will be passing out keychains Wednesday in observance of its 40th anniversary.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.