J. BLACK’S Feel Good Kitchen & Lounge + The Golden Goose
Sean and Ashley Fric began working together on the very first night they met. At an art gallery event for non-profit Catalyst 8, Ashley had signed up to work registration. “I was young and just trying to figure out how to network in Austin, so I was going to all these random groups and happy hours,” says Ashley.
Meanwhile, Sean, who was a co-founder of the non-profit, was working the bar at the event.
“I did think it was really cool that he was working the bar because a lot of people think that’s beneath them,” Ashley remembers, “But I mean, I wasn’t charmed. He thought he was really charming. I thought [he was] old,” she jokes.
At the time, Sean, 10 years Ashley’s senior, was working with a business partner to open up J. BLACK’s Feel Good Kitchen & Lounge on West Sixth Street. When it opened in 2007, West Sixth was hardly the entertainment district that it is now. “Key Bar was down there, and Star Bar, and the old Molotov, and that was about it,” says Ashley.
Looking for a change from her 9-to-5 job with the state, Ashley took a risk and joined the J. BLACK’s team as events manager. “She was our first hire,” Sean chuckles. “We weren’t dating when he hired me!” Ashley interrupts. “And I don’t recommend people date people they work with. I think it’s a bad idea. It works for us, it still obviously works, but it definitely comes with a unique set of challenges and it has to be a unique relationship to work.”
As the two started working together on opening the restaurant, an all-hands-on-deck, seven days a week process that involved “a lot of sweat equity love,” Sean’s charm began to work on Ashley. “I don’t think I even realized it was happening,” says Ashley, who remembers that first year telling Sean she wasn’t celebrating Valentine’s Day, only to have him show up at her house with food from Cipollina (one of her favorite spots), and Champagne. “It was cool, and thoughtful, and then all of a sudden I was celebrating Valentine’s Day,” she recalls. “That was probably when I started dating him.”
Nine years later, and the pair are still working together in hospitality. In addition to the West Sixth J. BLACK’s and the J. BLACK’s Houston location, Sean, with business partner Jason Steward, recently opened the Golden Goose, a new dive bar in the former Horseshoe Lounge on South First Street.
The couple is also working together to raise their two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Sean says the determined but relaxed attitude he brought to opening up a bar with Ashley is how he approached starting a family with her. “I haven’t done this before,” he remembers feeling about opening up the first J. BLACK’s, “but, we’ll figure it out. As long as you try hard enough, whatever it takes, we’ll figure it out, and it’ll be fine.”
“We consciously made the decision to have a kid knowing that we worked in this industry. But I don’t think I realized how much I worked before,” says Ashley, who no longer puts in the 12-15 hour days she used to, instead choosing to transition into more of a daytime operations manger role once Elizabeth was born. “Now we have to balance our schedules where we keep Elizabeth on a normal schedule. She doesn’t work a nightlife schedule,” Ashley laughs.
That’s not to say Elizabeth doesn’t make the occasional bar visit during the day. “We’re fine with babies coming into J. BLACK’s,” says Ashley. “It’s the 18-year-old kids we’re worried about!” For Derby Day, Ashley brought Elizabeth in to watch the horse races, dressed up in a hat and dress. She even made an appearance at opening day of the Golden Goose, although about 30 minutes in, “I was I was like, ‘Okay we gotta go,’” Ashley laughs, “’You’re making people feel bad about getting drunk.’”