Legal Blog

A Video Conversation with Larry Franks, Owner of Accents Grill, Cocoaccinos, and Serengeti- Part 1- On Moving From South Africa

Offering kosher dining at three establishments in Baltimore Larry Lara FranksLarry and Lara Franks are the owners of three kosher restaurants and a food service business in Baltimore: Accents Grill, Cocoaccinos, and Serengeti. Accents Grill serves burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads, sushi, beer, and wine. Cocoaccinos is a café that dishes out all-day breakfast and diner fare. Serengeti, which opened most recently of the three, is an upscale steakhouse with a South African-inspired menu. Larry and Lara each emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa, and both are Orthodox Jews. When did you move here, and how did you get your start in the business? LARRY FRANKS: I left South Africa when I was 19. That was still the midst of apartheid. My parents have got three children—I have a brother and a sister—and at that point white boys were conscripted into the army. My parents decided that they didn’t want their sons to go into the South African army, because of apartheid, and so they figured that if I graduated from college and then my brother did we would end up in different countries, which has happened to a lot of South African families. They decided after my brother matriculated from high school—he’s a year younger than me—we would all pick up and move to one country at the same time and that ended up being America. We lived in Irvine, California. I arrived in California age 19. I went straight into a community college. I then transferred to University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) and I graduated with a B.Sc. in Hotel and Restaurant Administration and I have always emphasized the food service and restaurant part of it. I wrote my GMAT exams and I applied to a couple of schools and I decided I was going to go to UC Riverside. In between, I took off a couple months and I was traveling around Europe. While I was in Europe my father called me and he said, “I found you a business.” I said, “But dad, I’m going to do an MBA.” He said, “Well, you need to come back early from Europe and look at this business. I think it’s great for you.” I wrapped up my trip, I flew home, and there was a little deli on Von Karman Avenue in Irvine, California. The deli had failed, and I went in there and we built this sandwich shop basically from scratch, and became very successful. We built a corporate catering business out of it, where we had seven vans we owned, which were running around to law firms and other corporate offices—mostly law firms—dropping off sandwich platters and deli trays. We had developed a line of hot foods, whether it be a roast chicken or teriyaki chicken, and we’d drop off a meal for 20 people and then we go back later, pick up all of our equipment and hopefully do it again for them. We developed these relationships and we had developed a huge corporate catering business, but we found that we were very strong in the field of these delis, little sandwich shops. What brought you from Irvine to Baltimore? We have a child who has Asperger’s syndrome. When he was three years old the Irvine School District told us that he would never talk, he would never be able to ride a bus, he would never have any friends. That was their first mistake: you never tell a Jewish mother that their child can’t do something. That thereby began the fight with the Irvine School District and we could see we weren’t going anywhere. Also we have three children, we had become Orthodox, and there weren’t any schools in the area that were going to work for our children. We had really two choices: we could either move to Los Angeles or Baltimore, because we wanted to go somewhere where we had some friends or some family. We needed some structure in our life. So, I have a very close friend that I have been friends with since I was 13 who lives in Baltimore, and we had visited before and we came out here again and we decided that Los Angeles would be somewhat unaffordable for a growing family. It is not an easy place to live, so we moved to Baltimore. We had done our research. There was a lot of infrastructure and the school district seemed to be able to offer Jeremy [our son] some services that we didn’t feel we could find in California. We ended up in the Park Heights area because we were Orthodox Jews and this is where all the Orthodox in Baltimore live, inside of this two or three mile radius. That’s how we ended up here. In the meantime, there is a realtor in Baltimore, Barry Nabozny. We had befriended Barry and he said, “There’s a location in the Greenspring Shopping Center. You guys are perfect for it. The land has sat empty for two and a half years. The landlord will not rent it to just anyone and you need to open a Kosher restaurant there.” That’s where the seed came from, from Barry Nabozny. We walked in, we liked what we saw, we met with the landlord. The landlord wasn’t very keen on the idea, because they would only lease to a tenant who would be open on the Sabbath. That was part of their lease. They had spoken to other Orthodox Jews before but nothing had come of them, but they spoke to us anyway and they did some research. They called us up and they said, “we would love for you to be our tenant.” That began the chapter in our lives of Accents Grill.   ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN Offit Kurman is one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. With over 120 attorneys offering a comprehensive range of services in virtually every legal category, the firm is well positioned to meet the needs of dynamic businesses and the people who own and operate them. 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