Rebecca and Rowen are a hospitality design duo that currently own and run the Jersey City restaurant Frankie. I sat down with them to talk about what it takes to design and open a restaurant, demystify natural wines, and what it's like to go into business with your significant other. Here are the To-Go Notes for the episode.
Huge thank you to Rebecca and Rowen for taking the time to chat with me.
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Jon: Yes. For a while I was just like pushing myself to try to learn a little bit, but then also I just found that like there are so many little gems that you wouldn't know because everyone just is kind of stuck to Newark Avenue in Jersey City the same for Barcade and all those like Porta and stuff like that. As I mentioned the space that you guys have is beautiful everything from the pieces of glass that you guys have hanging the ‘70s time period furniture and you know for my favorite the fonts on the menus things like that type and all that stuff. So, you two also just returned from what seems to be a nice lengthy international trip right?
Jon: You guys went to France, Spain, London and Australia. Did I miss anything in between there?
Rowen: One or two. We were in St. Petersburg for a little bit for the World Cup then a very fleeting trip to Finland for about 18 hours.
Rebecca: Usually when we travel we go a little nuts and we're used to like not sleeping at home with the restaurant anyways so let’s go to as many places as possible and pack as much food.
Rowen: The Australian trip is separate. We kind of always go to Australia so I can meet up two weeks is kind of the minimum I think at least for us to go there the length of the trip and spending all the time with family and friends and then sometime on our own.
Rebecca: We go home once or twice a year to visit family and this past trip we also did a business and we visited a bunch of winemakers in Natalie Hills that we work with here.
Rowen: A lot more fun than business.
Rebecca: More fun, but technically it was a business associate and a lot of fun so it was pretty wild.
Jon: Rowen obviously from your accent you grew up in Australia correct.
Rowen: Yes in Sydney. I've been living the States for quite a while, but it's like we're saying it's always been able to spend a lot of time in Australia as well. So, doing this every year or I went back and went to college there and then moved back to the States after that. So it’s been a lot of time on and off.
Jon: When did you first come to the US?
Rowen: Ten years ago like a week.
Rebecca: Celebrated your tenth year.
Rowen: Yes and always based in New York worked in a handful of restaurants there kind of starting off as a food runner and then eventually pretty much every job you could do in a restaurant on and off. I was lucky enough to work with some really great restaurateurs, chefs and bartenders and able to pull different things and learn different stuff from that different group and a couple other stints in London and then working in Australia as well.
Jon: Going back to your growing up in Australia where you were around the hospitality industry younger or just kind of running around blazing?
Rowen: Not overly. My family you wouldn't call it a food centric family necessarily like it wasn't that anyone was starving, but it everyone ate together and had dinner together, but the actual food was maybe not a huge focus necessarily. For whatever reason I was probably 15 or 16 started getting really into food and enjoying it I was lucky enough to move to England when I was like 18 and I worked in a really good pub and restaurant in London. From there I pretty much just worked in restaurants ever since. I haven't really stopped.
Rebecca: [Inaudible 4:53]
Rowen: Yes I worked for a lawyer for about 6 months in Jersey and after that I spent all day reading restaurant reviews on my computer and kind of thinking about it. Jim the guy I worked for actually came to the restaurant the other night and we had a good chat which was fun. That kind of brief stint in a corporate office world of…
Jon: Enough of a shock.
Rowen: Yes enough of a shock for me. I kind of realized it probably wasn't for me. Other than that short stint I really have just been in restaurants since leaving high school. That short but influential time working in England for a year in a bit really kind of set a course I think.
Jon: The jump over to the States I imagine was kind of you just able to get your hands dirty right away and just get right into like say to the back of house or wherever you guys were working at the time in New York.
Rowen: Yes a lot of walking around and handing out resumes to pretty much every restaurant possible, living off dollar slices for a good amount of time. I was lucky enough to get a start at a place called Double Crown which is it was a great restaurant in Manhattan and the owners have a restaurant designers called Avroko.
Jon: I've seen it their work is really amazing.
Rowen: Their restaurant public was really world-renowned and then just their design. It was probably one of the first places working in that just aesthetically was inspiring to be in and the amount of attention to detail, custom and furnishing things was really amazing.
Jon: So, you were not only working in the restaurant but you sort of came to have this appreciation of good design and good kind of like service or a good experience.
Rowen: Yes I think so. I think especially that place that's now called Saxon and Parole and is it equally as beautiful and good restaurant was maybe one of the first times realizing that the full package of a restaurant and how kind of all-encompassing it can be. We talk sometimes about escapism a little bit in a restaurant that type of place and I think there other design work and restaurants that they don't always iron, but they are open for other people is very much based around that. Once you step in and you kind of forget you're on the corner of Bar and Bleecker and transport into a new place a little bit. So, for that I know kind of in our projects we've done together and with Frankie there's definitely that element of wanting to have the street here which we love in the neighborhood we love, but once you walk inside.
Jon: Totally different.
Rebecca: The goal is to let people forget what time it is. You’re designing something or creating a space in the environment that’s what you want people to unplug. That’s a main goal for us.
Jon: I think it's something I noticed right off the bat when I walked into the space. Rebecca you have kind of projects all throughout the city as an artist also as a designer.
Jon: Were you always involved and kind of being creative when you were younger or did you grow up being artistic? For me it's like coloring books that's where I started.
Rebecca: No, I think my mom was like “You started your career when I saw you studying an ant colony and you came out and I drew it.” I was drawing these little ants for hours. She is like “I knew you were a weird kid, but I knew you were hopefully talented.” I have always been into art. I just kind of found my niche immediately when I was younger and identified with it. I went to Pratt so I grew up in Jersey and then dropped into the middle of Brooklyn and it was a great life experience and also like creative growth experience. I then stayed in Brooklyn for years which were just very impactful like in terms of being around a community of people who just pushed the limits. There was so much happening in Brooklyn the time with branding and different businesses opening. It was amazing.
I mean we met at the time in a restaurant called Colony that was in Brooklyn Heights and our friends are the the owners to this day and they were doing great things. Then I never thought I'd be in the hospitality industry though I will say that much. I worked at a brief stint in an Indian restaurant on route 9.
Jon: Back in hometown. We grew up not too far from each other. I grew up in Howell Jackson and you grew up in Freehold.
Rebecca: Yes you probably know the restaurant.
Jon: Where on route 9?
Rebecca: I should know the name of it. It was like the Thai Indian place that was by the Perkins.
Jon: Perkins I know exactly what strip it's like in between the car dealerships and then like the diner on the corner over there going south.
Rebecca: Yes. It was an experience. I mean it was serving nothing to do with the kitchen, but I even then like there's something about being in the industry though that is kind of magnetic because my palms are getting red by the chef's, I was drawing pictures of them and became friends. It's a creative environment itself and I think a lot of like chefs and creative’s in general or artists share the passion and the lack of sleep.
Jon: Lack of sleep very key on that.
Rebecca: Definitely. So, there's a there's a lot of parallels that help it like makes sense. I was doing this a basic design work. I started as a fine artist then went into communication design patent and illustration and zoned in a more commercial work while trying to do my own artwork on the side. Then when that Rowen is when my focus was on food and he kind of open my eyes to the design industry associated with the hospitality and that was a wonderful exposure. When we started dating like we've a lot of life together has been around exploring eating, going to places for the design the experience.
Jon: You mentioned that a chef, designer and artist or any kind of person who's creative who's spending hours working on projects and staying up it sounds like they just naturally compliment each other in that sense because in one aspect you're working and thinking about a designer may be looking at it as a visual problem that isn't necessarily hands-on whereas a chef is solving the problem of like the other senses that are needed so taste and smell. Vision is also a part of it, but like that's where they kind of it you start to overlap each other which I think I've never really heard it that way before.
Rebecca: The sensory experience it all works together.
Rowen: I think also with restaurants like a space they are so heavily used as a public space. There's a lot of wear and tear sometimes on restaurants things for us at least we always love places that look quite residential or that have no commercial look to them. Then you got to imagine that 150 people are coming through there in a night plate, glass all that type of thing that goes into it you want to happen kind of seamlessly without people noticing the movement of staff and whatever is going on. So, taking that into kind of designing a space we're making a space be practical, but seem like it's completely non-commercial.
Jon: Or effortless.
Jon: You mentioned that you guys started dating you met at a restaurant. Could you tell me a little bit more about that kind of encounter, what that was like and when you guys start talking about working together?
Rowen: It was a place called Colony in Brooklyn where we met and we were friends for I don’t know probably six months or longer and knew each other. I was actually away traveling for a while and a really good friend of mine moved to New York and Rebecca was looking for a roommate at the time with her other friends so they ended up living together as a lot of Australians do we get an apartment somewhere—
Jon: I've heard this before.
Rowen: We got a place and came back. I came back to New York and was sleeping on the couch, spending lots of time together and then it kind of went from there. We went to Canada traveling for a while and I was living up there for a little bit as well and months later in a roundabout way we went on a road trip through the States and back up to Canada with some other friends.
Rebecca: He had a best friend with a bus he drove up from Canada and we did a little bit of looting.
Rowen: We did a bit of loot through the States and Rebecca joined us.
Rebecca: I jumped on when I could. It was literally international. You went home for a while. You were doing the Lost and I was still hanging out in New York and then long story short it all worked out in the end.
Rowen: Yes a lot of movement a couple years there like between Canada and the States and Australia. A lot of going back and forth and then eventually decided we both loved New York and happy there and in this area of the world at least. That was about probably five years ago now and kind of permanently settled down here.
Rebecca: The first time working together that collaboratively was when I was doing branding and concept for a local redesign of a restaurant that was called the Kitchen at Grove Station [Inaudible 14:11]. I was working with another designer so it wasn't my core aesthetic, but it seemed very pub and bar oriented like it's a little mainstream.
Rowen: Like a country farm. [Crosstalk]
Rebecca: French kitchen still really beautiful. It was wonderful to work with the designer Andrew Bennett and you came on board. That was the first time we were kind of seeing it as a whole where Rowen was able to help with the food and we had a chef on board who worked closely with us and that project was a great learning experience as well. And during that time I think the more fondant project was the Fox and Crow.
Jon: The inside of that place… my girlfriend took me the other day for wings, Tuesday's usually Taco Tuesday it's really easy to get a taco around here go to Taqueria and then she always has a hankering for wings every once in a while. So, we would go to like Hamilton and Hamilton pork and they have really good wings. She's like “Let’s go to Fox and Crow.” I was like great I've never been there before. And also the space there I think is beautiful everything the bar as soon as you walk in it's a nice it's a different feel from Frankie. I walked into the bathroom and I was like wow the wallpaper is great. It's like lipstick all over. There are just so many great details I loved about that place.
Rebecca: That wallpaper is actually my mom picked that up. I always talk to people and they love it and she's like “Told you I can design.” That spot was fun but that was a horrible bar. Not horrible I'm sure it was it was loved in its own right. It has been shut down because of so many issues in terms of like drugs and violence and then when we came in there was a problem in terms of just the neighborhood accepting the change. We kind of did like a case study of like okay we've been living in Brooklyn for ten years. We've seen people they come in, do new projects and kind of bring that neighborhood together. Usually what helps do that is like art even just going out and spray painting the front of the project my parents were like “Yeah go for it.” I was spray painting, you're meeting locals coming up and like people have been in the neighborhood for 50 or 2 years and you start a conversation and it's a great icebreaker to kind of introduce the redesign and the reopening of the spot. Then in general we rolled out the restaurant. We definitely wanted it to be more like akin to a pub like in London or England. It's like family spot where you have like a baby on your hip, beer in your hand, you can be there it's Sunday morning or also late at night and have people in there again whatever wild.
Rowen: I think the culture of pubs definitely in England and Australia somewhat as well it very much an extension of your home. You often don't know the owners or the licensee or wherever it is because it's really your place. It's the public’s. It is very much a public place.
Jon: I was spent a few days in London and experience kind of like the pub scene for I think a Saturday or Saturday and a Friday it's great because here it's like everyone has to stay inside. You can't have anyone pour out, but like in London you've got people pouring out from like the doors and beers in the street and it's great. I think it's different in that sense. It's not like people are wild it's like they’re chatting and talking because that culture is totally different from say here in the States.
Rowen: I don’t know why that is so much fun. Grabbing a drink and going and standing out in the street for some reason is the most fun at venue.
Rebecca: Sometimes you should loosen up. I think people go buck wild when they can do it because they can break the rules where if it were like the norm you’re like okay that’s it.
Jon: I think there are a few things. There's definitely a couple of things like if we want it we could rip this apart, but I think also it's just like I feel like growing up going through school or anything like that and then I would go out with a few kids and they would just get like absolutely obliterated and then the next day they're like cranking head in the books going for hours. It's all like pent up and then they have to—[crosstalk] They’re like “Oh beer drink!” I don't get like that I like to enjoy. Granted we go out and have a great time once in a while and that's fun, but all like responsibly where you're not like running around and falling on the floor and pinching your head.
Rowen: It plays into that thing of college here where like you're crazy hedonistic years exist from 18 to 21. You know what I mean? You meant to get rid of all this energy and life experience in that 3 year period. Then it's like that's my college day.
Rebecca: My theories of American are like this Catholic guild. You go to Australia and it's not that everyone's drinking all the time, but it's just such a different vibe. You can go out with your peers or coworkers and you can like speak openly like oh yes I had a few drinks last night and you're not going to be penalized or like shamed for it. I think it's actually a better mental attitude because it's essentially it's a huge part of your life socializing, drinking and yet we're almost ashamed here of it. It's a really strange situation.
Jon: Yes it's almost like I think you could usually say people in the States they just are working all the time. They don't take that free time for themselves.
Rowen: I think that there's something amazing in the States I found about entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic is pretty amazing. It’s not that other countries everyone don’t works good hours and their charisma and whatnot, but here there's really a focus on the length of time you work, making something of your show, kind of making your own opportunities which I think is pretty unique to this country.
Jon: The projects we've mentioned Frankie a little bit will get Frankie more, but Fox and Crow and then we're also recording in the co-working space that you worked on AndCO. You also mentioned that you worked with the Silverman Group. I think more so what goes into designing a space that like people are going to exist in for hours they're going to eat and work. What are you thinking about?
Rebecca: So, comfort, confidence, colors, energy. I'm very sensitive. I go into a space and immediately I'm just like oh I don't like that. Everything it's like heightened sensitivity. I'm affected by every detail. So, taking that and being over critical of yourself in your environment when I got approached by the Silverman company they actually really liked Fox and Crow and the Kitchen at Grove Station so they kind of sought me out which is really cool. We had this great project. We already kind of tried working with two different groups and just wasn't clicking. Do you want to present a proposal and see how it goes? I saw the space, sent a proposal in and immediately I think we had this good synergy and we knew it was going to work. We had the same end goal on the site.
I worked very closely with Erik Silverman one of the owners of the company and Grana Wilkins who is a project manager and they were both just so hands-on and committed to the project it was a really wonderful team amongst everyone else too. But in the space yeah the biggest thing was we knew we wanted to have different areas there's going to be tiered structures of membership just like how we work. You're going to do your open work which is supposed to kind of resemble and feel like working in a cafe but obviously it's more comfort than being in the café. You have your reserved tasks where you'd be sitting for a long time in a desk and then the private offices. I think like the main goal was really kind of centered around the open workspace in the kitchen area because like the kitchen-- so I guess going back to hospitality the kitchen area is such a young center of like warmth and energy so and people kind of gather around the kitchen at homes and also when you're working.
Rebecca: So, we wanted to make the bar top area and it ended up being like a self-serve cafe so we have like beer and coffee. We did a nice big round bar and we kind of did a lot of essential designer on the kitchen and the lounge area which was again a living room kitchen I guess it's like a similar.
Jon: I would say majority of my time is spent at my apartment in the kitchen. I grew up kind of my mom taught me how to make eggs because I was like “Mom I’m hungry.” She would work late so it's like “Okay I'm going to teach you how to make something and then every time you're hungry you can make this and if you want something else you'll learn it.” So, I kind of would always spend my time in the kitchen growing up and now I find that like whenever I'm looking for a new apartment or I want to move I'm like okay how's the kitchen. It could be the smallest room. I can have enough room for like a twin bed, I mean it wouldn't be ideal, but my bed is in the kitchen and the kitchen is gigantic sign me up and let's do this.
Rebecca: Wherever I am if I'm abroad or we're home like I attend to work in the kitchen or in the kitchen I think also because of I can usually work in our restaurant late on projects it's the energy. So, you have people kind of energetic and talking I think people thrive off of this energy and they can continue working and like it builds their energy levels as well in this space. But we purposely did the tones of the whole space they're like primary which is great because that kind of brings you to like a primal like feel but at the same time responsive because it's like the first colors you're going to like respond to. Then lots of like blue tones and green hues like calming. So, you want a space that's not going to put you to sleep, but you're going to feel very comfortable relaxed and able to focus.
Jon: I think that's a good point to when you think about like my kind of workflow throughout the day or my like kind of chart it's like I'm really active. For me I know it varies per person, but like I'm active in the morning and then kind of have this like little slump around probably most people like three or four whatever, but like is there a way to kind of counter that in the design I think it's an interesting way of thinking about it.
Frankie is the name of your Chihuahua.
Jon: You named the restaurant Frankie. Where did you get the name Frankie for your Chihuahua?
Rebecca: It’s not the most interesting story basically we thought she had blue eyes, they’re not very blue now, my mom was like “Frank with blue eyes” and it just stuck. She was like “This cute little female Chihuahua.” I was like “Yes she looks like a Frank” and that's stuck. The restaurant everyone's funny people think it's like an Italian spot and I was like no.
Jon: If it was Frankie's, but it’s just Frankie.
Jon: Everyone in Jersey there's a string of like Italian Americans let's go to Frankie’s everything is apostrophe ‘S’.
Rowen: When I put it into like Google Maps or something the amount of Frankie's that comes it’s kind of like this is crazy.
Rebecca: I’m definitely not the most unique either but Frankie when I moved to Brooklyn she was like my icebreaker. I was in an apartment building on the corner of Stubbe and I think Taffy the Clinton Hill neighborhood, had Frankie and everyone knew Frankie's name before my name like the guy William who had the bodega we hung out way too much. Frank would be behind the counter hanging out with him. I just thought it was fitting because this little dog with a huge personality and she was kind of like my neighborhood icebreaker. So, I was like where is the restaurant. You want to meet people and bring them together that's Frankie.
Jon: The theme of it is kind of like Australian surf culture meets like everlasting sunny days in a sense. Where did the concept kind of stem from?
Rowen: We wanted a sign that was different in the area for sure. The concept was always going to be something that was unique as much as we love how many great Italian restaurants are in the neighborhood.
Jon: A lot Italian restaurants.
Rowen: A lot of Italian, American restaurants we just knew that was what we had to offer. We didn't need to offer it anymore.
Jon: Jersey City doesn't need another pasta/pizza/taco spot.
Rowen: Yes. It’s just really well represented from us we didn't need to do it. We knew we wanted to have something that was quite lively. The two other projects that were main projects in Jersey City been a part of both had a little bit of a similarity of being low lit like he was saying a farmhouse cabin feel and that’s definitely a big trend in restaurants at least in the State's. I think we were wanted to go the opposite side of that. Replace Edison light bulbs with more fluorescent colorful light bulbs and lighting pieces and design pieces. Rather than wood floors let's paint the cement, scruff it up, make that a part of the pool.
Rebecca: Take that beach feel. I think we were both passionate about Frankie like the food and design was kind of it's essentially very much us. If we were to do another project we would probably obviously take a concept and develop it very differently, but this one came pretty naturally. I mean it's following a concept it's also food he loves and pallets that I love. We wanted the space to be reminiscent of definitely Sydney where some of the design elements in Sydney you have the windows of different panes of glass. A lot of the old architecture in Sydney's like the different textures and the windows and the glass, you have lots of arches as well and the pallet tones. I think we were also inspired just by like the internal summer. Some of our favorite like surf videos like David Hockney paintings as we were going to kind of just kept collecting. Before when we were building Frankie we were in LA and got a bunch of great posters from the spot called “Surfing Cowboys.” We like saw it, we saved for months for Frankie and it was kind of like reminiscent of if we're going to be here in Jersey City and living in this space we want to make a space that feels like a holiday kind of like. It better than when you go away and you're in a holiday destination.
Rowen: Yes. We did buy a bunch these giant original movie posters like the “Fantastic Plastic” like an old surfer movie and we had him in our apartment for a long time. People would come over when we were having a party bit like Frank was still building a place it's like what's Frankie going to look like whatever. I do remember pulling out the poster this is what it’s going to look like.
Rebecca: They’re probably like, okay.
Rowen: This is the poster. Okay look at this. This is what the restaurant will look like.
Jon: This embodies what the restaurant should be.
Rowen: You have posters everywhere it’s like no just the aesthetics of this.
Rebecca: It's funny it just pours out like when you think about it for months you think about it and we were on a trip somewhere I think upstate and I made a napkin in the car and it was like we were sketching out like the layout of Frankie. We knew the windows were going to be there. There are so many iterations of what Frankie was going to be, but there is core changes that were always going to be there light-filled, lots of plants the same pallet. In the 70s as well like we also love a nod to like the seventies culture time it’s hot.
Jon: Yes just furniture, the chairs and the tables. I'm getting into furniture more and more. My grandma works at their shop so like for some reason back in Jackson randomly a piece of mid-century furniture will pop up. I'm like “Grandma how much is that?” She’s like “It's five dollars because you're my grandson.” You look it up. You know what I mean? I have a couple pieces that I've kept. The ideas like oh maybe I'll sell some, but like you look them up and like this would be expensive if I bought it from like a store or something like that I love it.
Rowen: I’ll get this some time.
Rebecca: I’ll be there in a heartbeat I love that.
Jon: I go down every once in a while to visit you know my mom and grandmother and it's really just like every once in a while get lucky, but there's a couple good spots in Ocean and Mammoth that have like a good selection of furniture. It’s weird because you're like, okay where the people that would buy that furniture are and you would never think all right where we grew up. It's like very woodsy-- very kind of like—
Jon: Yes. Jackson people are running around and hunting a lot. They want like the big leather couch to come in after a long day of hunting. You walk in and have this like six drawer mid-century piece you're like give me that please like take that now.
Rowen: In that area though no huge amount about it does show the variance in New Jersey like you don’t have to travel too far. People are hunting and more rural than where we are obviously now.
Rebecca: My grandfather grew up in lakewood and he was a woodworker. He would do woodworking like mainly like small pieces of scenic landscapes, but he also built furniture. It was looking like science something magazine and like the 60’s or 70’s featured pieces. So, there's something about the craftsmanship that goes along with that mentality too.
Jon: Having an appreciation for it.
Rebecca: Yes he was a crazy artist. I think one of the dogs ate his was it his turkey or a chicken one year and he refused to have Thanksgiving for five years.
Jon: Oh no that sounds horrific.
Rebecca: But it's definitely like an appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes with making something with your hands.
Rowen: The other thing with Frankie I think the most one of the most said phrases is we used to have that in our house when guests come in about certain elements particularly the chairs that we have. It's a few times a night at least someone comes in. That little memory right there connect with something that's assuming comforting and kind of homely. If that's one of the first things people recognize it's great you're kind of setting a path for hopefully more in enjoyment.
Rebecca: We also with this project because in the past we've done like the Fox and Crow is all like Old English pub cabin style, get all the Edison bulbs, go to the thrift stores, get like the furs the taxidermy. This project was like cool let’s engage with the creative community the design world right now because we were able to go to like local design shows. Wants it in the city's amazing, ICFF and we met with the lighting designers based in Amsterdam who did those really cool acrylic pieces.
Jon: Those are my favorite. I looked at those and was meaning to ask you. You're looking at it one way and it's a certain color and then you go around ten feet wherever and something totally different, but it gives us warmth of like the Sun setting and gradient of like blue, pinks and yellows. It’s one of my favorite pieces.
Rowen: Just how they changed for they look completely mirrored and they go to as soon as it changes angle it's is completely translucent.
Jon: That's kind of neat kind of like invisible glass at some point.
Roween: I find myself still staring at it sometimes move around.
Rebecca: I think it's also definitely there's been a few times where I've been overtired and made me a little drunk in Frankie and like it will hit you the orange light and I’m like Sun. I generated it. Then the other thing we have like a cool lighting fixture it resembles a ‘J’ from Eric Kindler’s I think who is based out of Seattle. We worked with a lot of people and so people will come in and appreciate design I think they see all these variations and they're like oh wow. Then some people come in like oh that's a great thrift store.
Jon: That’s funny that’s a ‘J’, your name starts with a ‘J’. They are really off; just see it for what it is at some point.
Rebecca: As long as they respond to in a positive way that's cool.
Jon: I think Frankie kind of I guess one of the staples and I guess something that you guys maybe pride yourself in is you have this wide selection of natural wine. Where does that come into play? Were you two always big fans of wine? Was that something that you kind of slowly grew into? Where does a where'd that come from?
Rowen: I've always worked with wine restaurants and enjoyed wine a lot. My dad and uncle's in particular really enjoyed really good wine and being around that when I was younger and then after high school were probably really influential as well. With the natural wine side of it one restaurant in particular called “Contra” in New York which is really well known for its natural wine list went there one night and I kind of heard about natural wine almost like as a buzz word type of thing. I didn't really know its relevance or what it was. The meal was amazing, but what I remember was the wine being I’ve never quite had things that were so textural different than that night and it kind of started an obsession really I don't know.
Jon: There's something in the back of your mind all the time for wine.
Rowen: Yes from there and then it's kind of been a point when we travel it's something you're always looking out for.
Rebecca: Our entire trip to Copenhagen was wine.
Rowen: Yes a wine scene there. With Australia at least there's a big movement with natural wine. There that's kind of coinciding it happened at the same time which has been great. For us that was always going to be a focal point of Frankie. We did the wine list of the kitchen was very much focused around small producers. A lot of them were natural and biodynamic wines, but it wasn't as much of a focus. We weren't as gung-ho about it.
Rebecca: Fox and Crow which has rounded the beverage list of them.
Rowen: They have a great selection of beers.
Rebecca: You helped jump in and organize it, but my dad it's funny with the craft beer. It was equivalent the craft beer movement natural wine where it probably maybe won't get as big but just in general there is still that stigma with wine.
Rowen: It's interesting we talked about it's almost now people geek out more with beer than they do wine.
Jon: Very true.
Rowen: It's driven me crazy a little bit that sometimes you have to have a certain amount of knowledge to really enjoy wine just not sure at all. But I feel like it's gone the other way now. People are so at least if you're into craft beer and in the States generally it's like you know about the hops, it's all small breweries or this tenant has great beer.
Jon: There's like the surge of a small kind of runs or ventures into these bigger beer companies that they do. I was talking to my buddy he owns a spot in the city that he curates kind of like all these different brands and he's built relationships with all these uh breweries and things like that. There is such a kind of people are seeking out more and more like the more obscure viewers. They get things like that are super wacky that the ingredients are made from like toenails. I don't know that may not be actually true, but like they're really obscure things and they’re coming back to like making more traditional sours and things like that. I've noticed that there's sort of been this switch from say having such a affinity for wine and now slowly trickling into kind of beer as well.
Rowen: I think if you have a passion for anything obviously always building on knowledge and wanting to learn more. For us with the wine we have a really big selection of natural wines from all around the world. There's a point I think when you stop trying to describe a wine or what it's like or maybe even the process to it when you try something in those kind of things you're not even thinking about and it's just the kind of profitability of it or how it involves a conversation that's got nothing to do with the wine. These sometimes go actually that was that's the bottle that's the one that's brilliant.
Rebecca: So I think well I think the craft beer people have in general more people know about the basis of beer. So it’s easier to grab onto the craft concept because you're like okay I know this much, I can take this knowledge in and like our big thing and design and hospitality in general too is like I think a lot of life is charged by insecurities. When you're in a space when the biggest things is like you want to make people feel secure because then they'll actually order something and like approach and accept it like their own. So, with beer they can or more likely to kind of venture out for the craft beer because they're like hey I know how the sour is cool I'm going to order that. Wine is very difficult because I grew up Jersey Jackson with box wine.
Jon: The bag.
Rebecca: Yes like the bag. Then like exposed to really nice wine, being in the city and then the food scene there I still didn't like grab on to it and love it because I had that same fear when I go to a restaurant the last thing you want is just sit there and go oh can I have this bottle that I can't pronounce and I don't know where it's from.
Jon: Don’t know where it’s from I've never been there.
Rebecca: Yes you're not going to do that. So, when we did this project we knew that one of the things we'd had to do is they break down that stigma. We wanted to bring back wine to the people and that's kind of what the natural wine movement is a lot of it is breaking the stigma with wine like Action Bronson which is huge.
Jon: I saw some picture but we'll talk about that later. For people like we're kind of talking about it have no clue like what are some things that you know are just really easy things to memorize or even to just be conscious of when you're looking at wine so to say?
Rowen: To talk more specifically about natural wine there's a lot of wine codified by law like a certain area to be called this wine it's got to be a particular grape or blend of grapes or whatever process. Natural wine it's not quite as hard line. There a couple of books and people have put a really good definition of what it is out there. For me at least its wine that's made with kind of naturally occurring yeast. So, a lot of wine making or any alcohol making you can add in inoculated yeast, commercial made yeast. But just in any environment in a cellar, in a winery there's natural yeast that exists in the atmosphere. So, natural winemakers use them to start the fermenting process rather than adding in chemical strains. On top of that you know little to no sulfates used to stabilize the wine. Some winemakers is just a little bit in bottling or at different stages to stop the wine from turning, but then on top of that the other big factors are like no flavor enhancers, added sugars, extra chemicals, a lot of them tend to be biodynamic or organic, but don't have to be specifically.
Rebecca: Some people aren’t experienced and find out these horror stories are like your oak in your wine is actually the wine being produced these giant colossal barrels and they're adding oak flavoring to this stripped down product. You wonder why people like wake up with massive hangovers or can't drink wine it's because you're really drinking chemicals it’s kind of crazy.
Rowen: For the end product quite often when you have more I find at least with a lot of winemakers who are growing their own grapes or a sourcing them and if they haven't been able used pesticides, herbicides and things like that there's a little bit more care maybe in the growing part of it. From that you end up with a bit of quality grape and essentially better quality wine hopefully at the end. That's at least been my experience what I found.
Rebecca: Then what about like go-to’s for people like ordering of a menu like who is a pet nut for example we introduced my sister—
Rebecca: Yes to a pet-nat. Explain what a pet-nat is?
Rowen: Pet-nats are sparkling wines. The natural wine world calls it pet-nats rather than you let the wine ferment in the bottle. So, usually wine ferments in a barrel and then your bottle. You let the wine ferment in the bottle and it gets a natural fizz to it. So, it's just sparkling wine made you know rather than going through the methods that you do with prosecco or champagne or cromance and other sparklings this just happens in the bottle. There are some amazing flavors with pet-nats. If you're a beer fan, big side drinker this is a great segue into the wine people world. People who really enjoy beer come to Frankie. It's usually the first thing I kind of go to try and get people to try.
Rebecca: That’s actually how I got into natural wine besides Rowen being around it a lot. I was drinking cider because I stopped drinking beer a while ago, oh I drink it a little bit, but not a lot and then the heavy wines that couldn't really drink I get headaches and stuff. I was drinking ciders and then sure enough Rowen was like “Try this orange wine.” It was a great and had a cider like qualities and I was like “Okay I can drink this.”
Jon: This is my thing now.
Jon: I kind of made the switch. I think I found out like when I was younger I was in school like going out drinking beers at cheap bars and all that stuff I think I like was always having a reaction to beer. I think it was just like a skin reaction.
Rebecca: Our friend has that.
Jon: Every night I wake up—
Rowen: Rebecca when we first met had a similar thing.
Rebecca: Beer rash.
Rowen: It didn’t deter or stop her from drinking beer.
Jon: It happened to my arms and stuff and I’d be like what happened. So, my mom would always say “Maybe you should stop drinking.” I was like mom that's not the thing. Sure enough I kind of like stopped drinking beer also because like I felt I was slowly blowing up like a balloon. But when I made that switch now for me it's usually whiskey or wines most of the time which I think I end up feeling a lot better in the morning as well.
Rowen: In Australia traditionally there's not a big culture of drinking spirits and cocktails as much. [Crosstalk] beer and wine are really the staples. If you go to a pub it's not uncommon to see half the room drinking wine and beer. There is maybe not quite that much of an element of drinking whiskey.
Jon: Anyone's drinking jack on the rocks. [Crosstalk]
Rebecca: It’s one thing we noticed and then even across the river you see it a lot more a lot of wine drinkers like 50/50 split and here I think beer still prevails but like that's something we're kind of hoping to slowly and surely grind away at and like introducing more people.
Rowen: Being an option.
Rebecca: Opening up to wine a little bit.
Rebecca: There's like a spot we love sitting that we love the Unicorn Hotel and that's one of the places we referenced for like our concept which was like this cool pub, great atmosphere and then you had people drinking like it really nice wines rowdy pub atmosphere which we loved.
Rowen: All natural wines bartender and kind of shorts and a single like very casual place, but it was amazing interesting diverse wine list to go which complements the place really well. Every time we're in Sydney we tend to go there or any time we're meeting friends of mine want to go to the Unicorn.
Jon: Sounds like a good spot too. I mean I would love to if there was a place around here called the Unicorn Hotel I’d be like yes let’s go there I don't care if its shitty or not just go in.
Rowen: What was the original name of the pub or the building in hotel a long time ago? It still it has the original signage on it and it was a couple of different places and then the current people brought that name back and just made it for that atmosphere pretty good.
Rebecca: The wine that's also just looping in the food too it's kind of why we did the whole food menu to be kind of casual and approachable because we didn't want to bring this like super prestigious menu with this wine just like turn people off. We wanted people to come in with open arms.
Rowen: It was helped with this the idea of the Australian concept and Australian food is very ambiguous it's not even Australia. What qualifies or quantifiers it as Australian food is it gives you a really good on umbrella to work around or underneath there's a lot of English pub influenced fish and chips meat pies and those types of things. Then just our proximity to Southeast Asia and the way we eat in Sydney in particular from there's a lot of Vietnamese Thai influenced in restaurants and the way people eat at home as well. It is those kinds of different opposite worlds. We don't do fusion at all. It's not like those things are combined on the plate really at all, but they live together side by side on the menu dish to dish. There's a little bit of harmony between those different cultures or flavors.
Rebecca: What is American cuisine? Its eclectic we tell people Sydney Australia is kind of like America. It's a city and usually eclectic cuisine so there is a similarity to it.
Jon: At some point just like that comes down to quality of ingredients or the ingredients. So, I saw like you guys get prawns right, you have prawns in the menu sometimes and I think that's not a normal necessarily like every restaurants sells prawns, but that's like very kind of local to that area to Australia and things like that.
Jon: I usually go through the Instagram and scroll down as far as possible like till I get to the last one, but I saw that you got a run in with Action Bronson at a natural wine fair.
Rowen: Yes very briefly.
Rebecca: I missed it. I wasn’t there.
Rowen: It's on actually next week called “The Raw Wine Event” in Brooklyn. You have a few others around the world as well. But we've been going for a few year and I didn’t know a lot about it till we went and it was awesome. I've gone a lot of wine tastings and different things and some of them are really helpful or fun, but they often are a little bit more on the austere side. This was complete opposite it's all-natural wine producers, it's a lot of fun, it's very kind of casual one.
Rebecca: It’s a beautiful warehouse in Brooklyn.
Rowen: Yes we ran into Bronson he's obviously a big supporter of natural wine and get gets pretty into it.
Jon: Did you listen to his music before running into him?
Rowen: Yes. I think everyone in restaurants listen to him. He comes from working in restaurants as a chef.
Jon: Working alone.
Rowen: Yes I think he's always pretty prevalent I think in most restaurants at least in the New York area you hear a lot about it and he's just hilarious.
Jon: I've never really talked to him in person, but working in the office guy comes into the room and everyone just laughing and dying. So, Frankie is a restaurant, but also more than that. You guys are hosting kind of in different nights for example you guys do a drink and draw. I swear I've been trying to get to when I first came to Jersey City one of my adult decisions moving out on my own it's like oh you know what I really missed figure drawing when I was in school so like I need to go out. I went to one it just like was really creepy like it just felt really weird. I genuinely loved drawing when I was in school and it just rubbed me the wrong way so I stopped going to that. You guys who host one here in the space I think that makes it like really awesome and welcoming, but you also do a delicious disco series called Friends and Lovers. Could you tell me a little bit about how that came about?
Rowen: I mean we were involved a little bit with some people through a really great after hours party when I was at university there and I don't know we just always loved going out and house music and partying really. We talked with our friend Ray who owns a another really great restaurant in the neighborhood called Roman Knows about throwing a party together for quite a while before Frankie was even there.
Rebecca: He was one of our first really good friends here. We all agreed on food, wine, music, art, culture it was like just a great connection. Ray has been throwing like small gatherings at his spot kind of and on. He was like “Your restaurant is suited it can bring people in.” So, we started doing it once a month.
Rowen: Yes and Saturday night relatively after we closed sometimes the odd diner sitting there and people are kind of coming in. We move all the furniture out of the middle of the room, put the blinds down and eventually hit the lights. Ray and our other friends come and DJ for the night. It's always a funny switchover because you kind of have a crew of people at the bar that like “Is there a party happening here?”
Jon: Do we come?
Rowen: Yes just hang out and you kind of like odd people still finishing their dinner or whatnot and then once they kind of either join the party or are finished and it's like hit the lights and the party kicks off.
Jon: It’s like turning over the room which is always a little rough. I think also to that point there's not a lot of that going on in Jersey City at all right now. There's just not that culture of having more than just the restaurant space, it's hosting and inviting people in.
Rebecca: I think there is but it’s a little bit different like you have Porta and then you have the other spaces that have downstairs parties. It's definitely like happening, but I think what we're trying to do is make it again it's all about like approachable comfort. With the drink and draw like you come in it's upstairs. It's kind of designed like someone’s beach house upstairs in our second floor.
Rowen: Yes and a lounge area.
Rebecca: Like with the drink and draw it’s the same reason you probably were uncomfortable. I've gone to somewhere I'm like this feels really like sterile and like I'm afraid to speak and like if you're nervous you can't draw well. So, like the idea of what we were going to do is bring the model in we work with a deep space gallery. Have you been there?
Jon: No it just opened not too long ago.
Rebecca: They’ve been around for a bit, but speaking me like gems off the grid like they're a great gallery space and that thrift store and we collaborate with them so they bring the model and they'll do some promo for us. Like you literally all gather have wine and there's a couch and chairs. Usually you sit on the ground you just drop and it's like a very comfortable thing and as far as the party—
Rowen: You can still hear the restaurant and everything going on downstairs which is really fun.
Rebecca: Its really funny at the end of during breaks from the model just walk around naked when you’re upstairs you're like having wine and people are eating it's like this is a great party.
Jon: It feels like almost I mean not from experience, but it kind of sounds like almost you're at your friend's place, they're having dinner in the next room and you guys are over here doing your art.
Rebecca: Nude friends.
Rowen: If you look around the restaurant there's from a couple we had some of the work framed and there's work from like a friend PI Tim who's a really great artist and he did this amazing piece we got frame when you come in. Then equally is important on another wall is our friend who is a stick figure animal looking.
Jon: That’s really good.
Rowen: That's framed on another wall side-by-side.
Rebecca: The point there's a little bit of talking allowed and like even that the timing like it’s structure there's time poses for the model and everything, but like it's not like you're not going to go in and say she needs to take a break. It's not a studious environment its fun with social activity. The rest of the parties like we air we also put on the project films. We'll put on like Fantastic Planet or like Santa Sangre and it's so funny watching. People like just get captivated like there's a woman her arms are cut off and she's bleeding. It's like half the scene that came in didn't know to expect a movie. They're like “This is so gory. How can you show this?” I’m like “Do you know what you watch on a daily basis?” This isn't this is like intentionally not even like real gore but art house gore.
Jon: It's a little more obscure,
Rowen: Obviously what I was talking about in Sydney started off in a Indian restaurant in an area called Kings Cross which is kind of a notorious area in Sydney. When I met the people who ran it these ladies moved to it to a proper like nightclub talking about it how it started at this place noise like ended up there one night and I was like that was that was this party kind of thing. It kind of stuck with us a little bit that a restaurant it's a public space you can really do so much with it if you've got it. If you want to do it it's interesting to do things like the parties are amazing.
Rebecca: We have the party going on once every third Tuesday, the drink and draw is consistent, we have a brunch party a tribute to Shaw Day with Love Lisa and Vidal. We always try to keep it like the energy flowing and exciting for people to come into.
Rowen: We don't have any TVs but there's a projector that we use.
Jon: I mean I think that's a very intentional thing that because as soon as you bring a TV in this space it feels very like almost taking it out gives people more reason to interact and not necessarily be looking. I mean I do it every once in a while it's like when you go to restaurant with my girlfriend or something it's just like oh my god there is a TV like naturally.
Rebecca: Then you’re watching something for 2 hours.
Rowen: That was definitely part of conversations like I don’t think we'd ever do a place which you have TVs in its silly, but there's times like showing those kind of movies are really fun, showing Premier League football. There's nowhere in town that does that. Quite often it’s just me watching it.
Jon: There is a game on in Australia I want to watch right now.
Rowen: Yes we could be the place that shows everything that doesn't isn't on maybe or gets utilized in other places.
Rebecca: The World Cup.
Rowen: Yes the World Cup was that was probably one of the main reasons actually like oh shit the World Cup.
Jon: That was the foot in the door with the Premier league I guess we got this projector now guess we got to watch soccer. That’s great.
Rebecca: We’ll show NFL but its funny because it worked for us it's not our line of style. I’m like what game is that I keep looking at it?
Rowen: In the Fox and Crow in the back room there in the parlor which is like beautiful and awesome music venue there is a projector in there we did do a short-lived movie series there that was on Monday nights. I think we did like six of them or something. You have a very small, but dedicated crowd coming to watch these things sometimes one or two people.
Jon: It’s like Colton.
Rebecca: Classic Colton.
Rowen: You see a huge crowd, but the handful of people that came would come really love that movie like your niche audience.
Jon: So, you guys are constantly working together on the bunch of projects that you guys do and as much business partners as you guys are, but you're also you know together outside of work. What is it like going into business for with someone that's just not only your business partner, but your significant other?
Rebecca: Everyone warns you. There is always that fear like you hear the stories of like the young restaurateur we went to a hostel once and this guy opened up Nicaragua and the pictures of the bar it rezoned your friends have been there though. It was pictures of he and his wife and a young fat kid and it was like sunny days and then the guy is still there and he's old he's divorced, his kids diuretic. You're just like oh god.
Jon: That’s tough.
Rebecca: You can't kind of let that fear or you can't also compare yourself to other stories all the time. You got to trust yourself.
Rowen: Personal relationship comes first.
Rebecca: It’s funny because we’re both working and so passionate we do it's actually nice because otherwise I think if I wasn't with him but someone else who had like a different mindset I would be the knowing workaholic.
Rowen: The restaurant is such a personal place for us that exactly what you said if I was working with someone else there would maybe be more personality clashes. I think when you're in a relationship like we are you have more allowance for each other and moods or being upset or tight whatever it is. If you're in that same relationship with someone who is just a business partner it might actually cause more problems so in some ways because you're not quite as forgiving of other people or something like that.
Rebecca: I think it's like a great relationship just when you come home together basically the things are important in life and you agree on it goes pretty seamlessly. Right now it’s good.
Jon: I knew I was going to ask you this question, but you kind of mentioned before is that you guys almost have this complimentary quality having be a designer, but both creative and an aspect that seems to just have the perfect amount of overlap that you can focus on your thing you can focus on your thing. At times I'm sure there are plenty of heated moments, but otherwise things work out because you're both passionate about the same thing and have the same goal.
Rowen: It is an interesting aspect we're both so interested in what each other's skills are, but ultimately if I'm describing what I really think something should look like or I think would look great Rebecca has the ability to actually create that what would go into making that atmosphere or that feel in a certain way. Likewise if it's something like with wine or food there may be some things that quite esoteric and I think are this is absolutely amazing Rebecca can come from more of a consumer’s point of view like that’s disgusting. It’s horrible, don’t sell that or whatever. It does balance out a little bit.
Rebecca: I also can’t cook a thing. It’s a dependent relationship.
Jon: Kind of being able to recognize your weaknesses in a sense is I think for me has always been huge not only like professionally like business-wise and career, but like you know just you know intimately and emotionally. I mean me personally I'm an emotional guy. I cry all the time. I'm always like having such a rough weekend and I'm like you need a good cry. I'm like what no I don't do that. I was like dude I did that yesterday. It’s totally okay and fine. So, I think that sounds like a big thing as well that is into it. Frankie's doing well, Fox in Crow, I don't believe that anyone has come in to say a thing about those wings I think they're really good. I haven’t heard any complaints or anything like that. Whats on the horizon for you two? Are you guys working on projects or anything that you can maybe give a little bit about?
Rebecca: As I say we always have so many ideas in different directions it's hard to pin down where exactly you want to focus your energy and make a commitment for the next the next thing. I think the biggest thing we want to focus on is obviously still nurturing Frankie and then seeing how we can expand Frankie's brand. So, whether it be some type of like pop up elsewhere could be if it's in Brooklyn or if it's even in another state or in Australia like maybe Australian do pop up there. But I think definitely expanding Frankie and then we have a few concepts in mind for future spots if the time is right.
Rowen: It's good, but it's so important not to rush into anything. If you have a really great idea sometimes you can kind of get the feeling like I just to want to do it right now because it seems so perfect, but these things have longevity or need longevity so kind of giving a time and waiting till you find the right place I think that's important.
Rebecca: Ground level we have something hopefully. We can give more details on it soon, but this summer if you just look out for something called “The Swim Club” and that's really all I can say and then hopefully it all comes to life.
Jon: That's awesome. Thank you. Where can people find Frankie if they need to on the web? Where can they go?
Rebecca: Frankie's Instagram is FrankieeatsJC.
Jon: The restaurants located in Jersey City.
Rebecca: We're in Jersey City and then we both have like personal Insta mine's actually—
Rowen: Find me in the restaurant. I'm not online doing much.
Jon: Doing the research before some of these episodes you Google search people and Rowen is completely non-existent. I'm sure it's a good thing not saying it’s bad, but it makes it really hard to pin down what Rowen's experience and stuff like that. Usually you default. For me I go to Instagram. Rowen's is the opposite like dang this guy you make it really hard.
Rebecca: He’s private on the opposite, but even I have a design studio it's called Black Rabbit. Speaking of like you get involved with so many projects and we're in the process of trying to like flesh that out and go in those worlds of okay I need to make that break so I can get the design crowd specifically following. Not everyone wants to see pictures of my dogs like the personal one. We’re out there.
Rowen: The same with Rebecca a month or two.
Jon: This is very true.
Rebecca: You can personally find Rowen every day.
Jon: Thank you too for chatting with me today.
Rowen: Thanks for having us.