‘Friday Night Lights’ shining on Montopolis eatery
A fun part of watching “Friday Night Lights,” my favorite TV show? It’s picking out all the Austin places where filming has happened.
When a place called Ray’s Bar-B-Q kept popping up on the screen as an important part of the story line, I thought, “I know that joint. I’ve been there.”
And I was right. “Friday Night Lights” has done a fair amount of shooting at Ray’s Bar-B-Q, a tiny barbecue joint toward the north end of Montopolis Drive with three red picnic tables outside.
There’s been one drawback to stardom. Ray’s had to cut out Soul Food Thursdays because they were just too busy.
“We had to do a lot of cookin’ on Soul Food Thursdays,” explained Sterling (he goes by one name), Ray’s manager. “But we still do Fish Fridays. Yessir, catfish and tilapia.”
The scouts who track down locations for “Friday Night Lights” covered some ground. You don’t get much farther off the caramel latte path than Montopolis, a tightknit neighborhood in Southeast Austin.
“Friday Night Lights” found Ray’s by driving around and looking out the window, producer Nan Bernstein said.
She said they wanted an authentic barbecue place that would look right in East Dillon, the poor part of town depicted on the show ever since Coach got fired by those rich jerks at the hoity-toity high school. Ray’s fit the bill.
You got your worker in an apron behind the counter slicing brisket, your flat-screen TV on top of the stand-up soda cooler and a couple of cowboy hats and a UT license plate hanging on the wall.
Ms. Williams (that’s what she wants to go by), the co-owner of Ray’s Barbecue with her dad, Ray, thinks this might be the first TV shoot ever done in Montopolis.
“The closest thing I can recall was the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2),’ ” she said. “But that didn’t actually come into the community. It was by the bridge (over the Colorado River at U.S. 183). So for this generation, this has been pretty major.”
Sterling says the whole thing has been good for the neighbors. He says that when the show shut down Monsanto Drive (Ray’s is at Montopolis and Monsanto), some of the neighbors got checks. How much? “I’m not sure, but I think it was zero to $100,” he said.
Williams and Sterling say Ray’s gets paid by the shoot (they won’t say how much). Sterling says “Friday Night Lights” used Ray’s about 16 times last year, and Ray’s is expecting a crew to come by today for more work. And they say that even though they have to close some days because of all the actors running around, it’s been worth it financially.
“You get a lot of customers who come in for not particularly eating; they just want to see something on ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ” Sterling said. “No telling what that’s going to mean in the future.”
Sterling says the cast has been really easy to work with, too. “Down-to-earth,” he said. “You don’t seem like you’re dealing with the Ewings from ‘Dallas.’”
Though Ray’s provided the food for a pep rally scene involving about 200 folks, Sterling says the cast isn’t supposed to eat up all the groceries during shoots. The ribs and potato salad are for props, he said. Yet, “it’s hard to have Texas barbecue in your face and not consume some of it,” he added.
Then there are the show business opportunities. Ms. Williams has been in a couple of scenes, and Sterling has landed three small parts, among them a barbecue joint employee on lunch break. (Hey, I could play that.) But, no speaking part yet for Sterling. “For actually written lines, I haven’t had any yet,” he said.
Maybe he should just blurt out “How ’bout some yams?” and see who calls from NBC. Hey, it could happen.
Sterling, the manager at Ray’s Bar-B-Q says more customers have been showing up just to see a restaurant that’s been featured on TV. ‘Friday Night Lights’ filmed there about 6 times last year.