One fact you may not know about Daniel Northcutt, owner of Frank restaurant downtown, marketing guru, screenplay writer and self-confessed film buff: He used to bartend at one of the city’s oldest gay bars, Oilcan Harry’s.
Back when Northcutt first moved to Austin in 1998, he met Lance, who was the high school best friend of one of Northcutt’s friends from Angelo State University. Lance was one of only two people he knew when he moved here, and the pair became fast friends. They bonded over shared experiences in the food and beverage industry and explored Austin’s burgeoning downtown nightlife scene–whether at mainstay gay bars on 4th Street or dives on Red River.
“Since Lance was gay, one of our most frequent stops was Oilcan Harry’s,” said Northcutt, adding that he started to make friends and develop business connections in the gay community. “Growing up in the restaurant industry, there were always gay people working around me. It’s not like I decided to be an ally. It never crossed my mind to not be one.”
When Northcutt landed in town looking for a job, Lance invited him up to the Renaissance Hotel near the Arboretum, where he worked as the beverage director at the time. He got Northcutt hired at Trattoria Grande, one of the few restaurants, along with Eddie V’s, in that section of town. He also put in a good word for Northcutt at P.F. Chang’s and secured an interview for him at Manuel’s.
Northcutt maintained his friendship with Lance, and when he needed to earn some extra cash as he was opening his first solo venture in town, an East Coast-style sandwich shop called Punchy’s, he worked for about six months behind the bar at Oilcan Harry’s in 2003.
When Northcutt was 13, his parents signed a waiver so that he could work in his brother-in-law’s Mexican restaurant in West Texas. Slowly but surely, he went from busing tables to learning the basics in the kitchen. He credited his firefighter father with instilling a strong work ethic in him as a young boy. Northcutt would eventually close Punchy’s, marry his wife, Jennifer (who has worked as the general manager at Frank), move to Colorado for one year, and then return to Austin to run The Woodland before opening Frank in the former Starlite space on Colorado Street.
“A good restaurant is so much more than just food,” said Northcutt, adding that he sees a lot of commonality among his professional passions. “You are creating a getaway for folks. It’s the same thing with movies; they’re magical and people are going out to get away and be a part of a different life. They’re two separate things–but in both instances, you’re trying to take a guest to a different world and place.”
During his time at The Woodland, he met a board member from the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF). After that, Northcutt began to support the festival with a range of sponsorships and by donating food or beverages for different events. Four years later, he’s a board member of aGLIFF. He hopes to take the festival to the next level by bringing in new sponsors and emphasizing the interactive nature of each brand’s involvement–taking allied brands to a higher level of sponsorship–all in the name of breaking down the walls that divide us as a community.
In addition to expanding aGLIFF’s reach in the city and growing its partnerships, Northcutt has some big professional plans of his own. Frank is ope ing a second location in Nagadoches, one of the oldest towns in Texas, while the downtown location is being revamped to accommodate an intimate (150 to 200 people) music venue that will host a range of live music acts year round beginning in the fall.
“The festival ties together a lot of my beliefs with activism and education and equality and the arts,” said Northcutt. “While aGLIFF has been around for years, there’s a lot of room for growth and for somebody to really focus on that. I’m humbled and honored.”