In the last six years, the Iranian immigrant has become such a fixture in downtown's nightlife that he's known by only one name. "Everyone calls me Frankie, and I like that," he says. His business, Frankie Burger, is a kitchen on wheels ' a trailer equipped with propane gas to heat a grill, tanks for hot and cold water and a prep counter where he sells and prepares hamburgers, cheeseburgers, sausage dogs, hot dogs, boudin and Frito pies. He opens on Thursday through Saturday nights around 7 p.m. and sometimes works until four the next morning serving the late night crowd downtown. "I'm the last person to leave downtown, always," he says.
Yaghobi began selling sandwiches from a truck to the bar crowd on the McKinley Street strip in 1999. With the blessing of Andy Monceaux ' then the owner of Amanda Scott's (now NiteTown) on Jefferson Street ' Yaghobi beginning setting up his business on weekend nights in front of the nightclub. He later purchased a trailer and served food in front of the Voodoo Cantina (now Legends). Since January, he's stationed Frankie Burger in front of the Renaissance Nightclub on weekend nights.
Owner Judd Kennedy has no problem with Yaghobi conducting business in front of his club; in fact, he even allows Yaghobi to tap into his electricity at no charge. In exchange, Kennedy says, "He gives me supper every night when I get to work. Me and my wife eat free." And Frankie Burger patrons are granted free admission into Renaissance. It's a sweet deal for Kennedy. "People stop in front of him to get food," he says. "When they hear the music coming out of the building, they're more likely to walk into the building. It's good for my business. It's attracting a much older crowd through the door. The younger crowd, they reserve their money for alcohol. The older crowd has money to spend on food and alcohol."
But the wheels might be coming off Yaghobi's business. On the nights of Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5, he was fined $100 each night for violating a newly revised city-parish ordinance. And again this past weekend, he was open for business Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, but he says that he only received one ticket on Thursday night. Before the revision, the ordinance prohibited anyone from parking a vehicle in a public parking space for the purpose of showing and selling a vehicle, washing or repairing a vehicle or for "any commercial advertising purposes." The newly revised ordinance now also prohibits "operating a business."
In the battle over Frankie Burger, other businesses are also feeling the pinch. On the night of March 5, radio station KSMB was cited for violating the revised ordinance. Mary Galyean, general manager for Citadel Broadcasting, says, "It's something we do every week. I'm trying to understand why something we do as our everyday business is now against a city ordinance."
Galyean says that after conducting a live remote broadcast in front of NiteTown for the nightclub, her crew was wrapping up when they were cited by Lafayette police around 10:30 p.m. Cpl. Mark Francis with the Lafayette Police Department confirms that both Yaghobi and KSMB were cited for violating the revised ordinance. About KSMB, he says, "We're waiting to determine whether or not they still fit into this new ordinance. The officer felt that the radio station van was in violation ' in his interpretation ' of the ordinance. We've asked the officers to cease issuing citations to the radio stations until we get some clarification as to whether they're included or excluded."
"I'm not sure what's going on here," Galyean says. "Are they planning to cite us at our other remotes or cite other TV stations or radio stations?" This past weekend, Galyean says KSMB hosted live remotes at both Club 410 on Friday night and at NiteTown on Saturday night, both without incident.
It appears as if fining radio stations wasn't the intent of the new ordinance. In a letter from Director of Traffic and Transportation Tony Tramel to consolidated government Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, Tramel writes that downtown businesses are at "a tremendous unfair advantage to vendors who: Show up on Thursday with a mobile trailer and park it on Jefferson Street for two or more days, chained to a parking meter post, and often fails [sic] to provide proper fees for parking."
Yaghobi's recent nighttime fines come on the heels of a pattern of daytime fines issued by the city. On the days he sets up for his evening business, Yaghobi says he puts quarters in the appropriate meters, but he still receives parking tickets.
Rob Robison, owner of Jefferson Street Market and president of Downtown Lafayette Unlimited, says the issue isn't about Frankie Burger, but the proliferation of street vendors without proper regulation. "It's nothing personal against Frankie," he says, "but if he can be there, everyone can be there; then you've got a big problem."
But not every business downtown has a problem with Frankie Burger.
"Frankie's an awesome neighbor," says World of Body Works owner Yancy Miller. "We've never had any trouble with him before, so I don't understand the big ruckus. The guy is just trying to make an honest living. He could be out on the street selling crack, but he's not. He's not harming anybody, and he's paying the meter everyday."
When Miller and his wife, Miriam, heard that Yaghobi had been fined, they reached into their own pockets and gave him $100. "Nobody can afford a $100 fine every day," Miller says. "The guy's trying to work for himself to have the American dream. And I just thought it would be helpful if we helped him."
"That was an awesome day for me," Yaghobi says. "It was very friendly. But I cannot say to people, 'Hey, give me money.' I want to work, honestly."
Yaghobi says that he has looked into getting an attorney, but he can't afford it. What he can do is raise his prices. He's increasing the price of hamburgers, cheeseburgers and sausage dogs by 50 cents; and on his Frito pies, boudin and hot dogs, he's going up by a quarter. He says the cost increases won't cover all of his nightly fines, but it will cover about $50 worth each night. "I raised my prices, but it's still cheap for downtown," he says. "I'm sorry that I raised them, but I have no choice."
Yaghobi has also started a petition drive. Thirteen local businesses have agreed to display his petition, and he's collected about 600 signatures so far, some of them from customers from Renaissance, Marley's, Daiquiris Supreme Downtown, Legends, NiteTown, The Bad Kitty, NiteCaps, and World of Body Works.
For Yaghobi, the fines are just the cost of doing business downtown. And as long as Kennedy will have him, Yaghobi has no intention of moving from his spot in front of Renaissance on Jefferson Street. "Why?" he asks. "I have to live. This is my job."
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
NJ lady beats Donald Trump; Israel calls up more troops; border hearings accelerated and more national and international news for Thursday, July 31, 2014.
State Rep. Lenar Whitney — one of a handful of Republican candidates vying for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional district — has been described by Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman as one of the most “frightening or fact-averse candidate[s]” he’s ever met following her reaction to an interview last week.
Mid-August hearing dates have been set for dueling lawsuits over Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards in public schools.
An investigation into the last-minute passage of a pension hike for the state police superintendent continues, despite Col. Mike Edmonson's decision not to accept the increase.
Safety Jairus Byrd practiced with the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday for the first time since his signing in March.
Sentencing has been delayed for a businessman who provided key testimony in the corruption case that resulted in the conviction of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.
The spectre of priest sex abuse has returned to haunt the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette following the recent release of an investigative report by Minnesota Public Radio, revealing new allegations of another child predator hiding behind the clerical collar.
The sponsor of a Louisiana law that requires doctors that perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges doesn't believe the provision is in jeopardy after a federal appeals court struck down a similar Mississippi law.
Louisiana's state school board has jumped into a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal that accuses the governor of illegally meddling in education policy through his efforts to block Common Core education standards.
Here's how one nationally recognized conservative political pundit reacted upon hearing the news Monday that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was leaning toward an endorsement of Louisiana’s lone Democrat senator.
With the qualifying deadline for Lafayette Parish School Board elections quickly approaching, a series of candidate forums have been announced by the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council.
The investigation and potential prosecution of the man charged in the recent hit-and-run death of a Youngsville cyclist won’t happen overnight, according to local law enforcement officials.
Louisiana's state school board is holding a special meeting to consider whether to sue Gov. Bobby Jindal in an ongoing dispute over the Common Core education standards.
A bipartisan congressional deal to help improve veterans' health care access includes approval for new veterans clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles.
It wouldn’t be a first, however, as the Chamber has thrown money behind Landrieu before.
The Democratic incumbent, seeking her fourth term in office, is a strong supporter of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance exports of U.S. companies.
The world is a politically tense place these days with hot spots ranging from the Middle East to Ukraine. In Louisiana and Mississippi, where the political chessboard tends to be a lot less threatening and at times entertaining, this election season is living up to expectations.
Louisiana has joined nine other states in support of Indiana’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that the Hoosier State’s ban on sam-sex marriage violates the Constitution.
The Saints are being cautious in an effort to minimize risk of re-injury.
LSU Health Sciences Center says people with a common, hard-to-treat kind of lung cancer can join a new national trial to test drugs faster.
As New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis spoke about the opening of training camp, steep, tree-covered mountains were in full view behind them.
The family of fallen cyclist Lon Lomas is speaking out after the release this week of the man charged with his death.
"The solutions are obvious: undo consolidation, or amend the charter to make this hybrid attempt at a new form of government work better."
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering whether to get involved in a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal for his attempts to undermine use of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana's public schools.