Ian Beritich, general manager for the beloved Tacoma drive-through, Frisko Freeze, appreciates the neighborhood where the eatery is located more than most restaurant top brass might. Why? Well, Beritich was born right next door at Tacoma General Hospital, which overlooks his now-place of employment. As such, Beritich knows how important Frisko Freeze is to those visiting the facility next door, those who are grieving or exhausted, or those who are starting their own brand new family that very day. Indeed, the center of Tacoma’s Frisko Freeze’s success goes beyond burgers and fries to include the concept of family. It’s what makes the restaurant go and what it’s been built on ever since its first day some 72 years ago, on July 20, 1950.
“Coming in here was so cool as a kid,” says Beritich. “It was an exciting place for me in my childhood.”
Today, Beritich shares a close relationship with the establishment’s owner, Penny Jensen. “She’s another mom I never wanted,” he says with a big, loving laugh. He’s known her for some two decades. Now, he helps to take care of Jensen. He gets her Starbucks coffee, checks up on her and does odds and ends around her house. It’s a familial relationship between two people who understand the value of Frisko Freeze, which Jensen’s father founded in 1950. As a result, Beritich hopes to run it for decades to come.
“I’m going to own it one day,” says Beritich, who has been working at Frisko Freeze since he left high school in 2002. “That’s a big driving force. I’ve put my blood, sweat and tears into this place!”
Beritich, who has his own family now, started as a prep cook and worked his way up to General Manager by 24-years-old. Every day is different at the restaurant. Tacoma’s Frisko Freeze’s success goes beyond burgers and fries to include the concept of family. At first, Frisko Freeze just sold soda and ice cream. Later, it introduced hamburgers, and then business took off. Jensen’s father adored San Francisco. So, that’s why he decided to name his shop after the city, switching the “c” for a “k” for fun.
“He bought the land, tore down the gas station and built the Frisko Freeze building,” Beritich says. “He just loved San Francisco.”
At the time, burger stands were all the rage. They were sweeping the country, and their popularity was exploding thanks in part to the McDonald brothers and Ray Kroc. Today, people still love their American fast food. But Frisko Freeze, which gets a lot of foot traffic from the nearby baseball stadium, offers their burger, fries, shakes and the like with local charm and without a conglomeration behind it. A typical meal – burgers, fries and a drink – costs about $12 out the door, and the quality is higher at the hometown small business than the big chains.
“The assembly line, Taco Bell, Burger King, they all got those ideas from the McDonalds,” says Beritich.
Frisko Freeze’s signature burger is different than most. There are no pickles. Instead, they use a red hamburger relish that aids in that overall satisfying drip of sauce down your chin. Those juicy burgers and the rest of the menu were very popular during the pandemic. In a time when there was so much uncertainty, Frisko Freeze experienced a number of extremes in 2020, according to Beritich. But, in the end, the spot fared well with the ever-changing state of the world and food service.
“It was terrible,” Beritich says. “We were down $40,000 for March when everything shut down. But then, we were considered an essential business because we had no indoor dining. So we had record sales in May. It was hard to get through.”
Now, the restaurant is still experiencing some issues due to the pandemic, thanks to uncertain supply chains and other more esoteric details. July is typically the modest restaurant’s busiest month, so Beritich and his rather tight-knit staff are preparing themselves for more sweat, early mornings and late days. But that’s what happens when you’re a community centerpiece with a big ol’ recognizable sign.
Of course, to be busy is often better than the opposite — especially when it comes to foodservice. Thankfully for Tacoma and those in the adjacent hospital and nearby baseball park, Frisko Freeze is ensuring there’s a center, a hub, a bumping heart to the neighborhood to come and enjoy a snack or a meal, even during uncertain times, and especially during those occasions when a family just needs a bunch of burgers to fill empty stomachs.
“This place is a landmark in Tacoma,” Beritich says.
1201 Division Ave.,