Rebecca Johnson & Rowen McDermott

Hospitality duo Rebecca and Rowen discuss opening their restaurant Frankie, natural wines and going into business with your significant other

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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.

When They Were Young

  • Rebecca grew up in New Jersey where she worked as a server at a local restaurant but never thought she would end up in the hospitality industry. She then went on to study art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. As a kid Rebecca would sit and draw ant colonies and that's when her mother knew she was "a weird kid, but I knew you were talented."
  • Rowen was born and raised in Sydney where he first started off working in the hospitality industry. He worked a few restaurant jobs between Australia and London before making the move over to New York. Once in New York he started off as a food runner and worked his way up the ladder covering every job you could possibly have in a restaurant.
Hospitality duo Rebecca Johnson and Rowen McDermott with their dogs Frankie and Ozzie for Wellfed Creative Podcast
Left to Right: Rebecca, Frankie, Ozzie and Rowen

How They Met

  • Rebecca and Rowen first met through mutual friends at a restaurant called Colonie in Brooklyn Heights. They were friends for about six months before Rowen had to move back to Australia.
  • Rowen eventually made his way back to New York and ended up sleeping on the couch of a friend's apartment who Rebecca had moved in with and their relationship grew from there.
  • After a road trip to Canada with friends and a few trips back and forth to New York they decided to plant permanent roots in the big apple.
Rowen and Rebecca at the bar in Frankie in downtown Jersey City for Wellfed Creative Podcast
Rowen and Rebecca at the bar in Frankie Jersey City

The First Time They Worked Together

  • At the time Rebecca was working on a project in Jersey City called 'The Kitchen at Grove Street'. Rebecca had brought on Rowen to help the with food side of the project and that is when they learned that their talents both compliment each other in the design process.

A family spot where you have like a baby on your hip, beer in your hand, you can be there and it's Sunday morning or also late at night and have people in there going wild.

The Fox and Crow

  • The Fox and Crow is another project Rebecca and Rowen worked on together. It was originally an old bar that had seen it's fair share of shut downs due to violence and drugs. Because the restaurant at the time was at a low Rebecca decided to announce the redesign to the neighborhood by painting a large mural right outside the bar. She was able to really meet the neighborhood and start conversations with locals that had been there for years.
  • The interior of the restaurant was inspired by English pubs in London. "A family spot where you have like a baby on your hip, beer in your hand, you can be there and it's Sunday morning or also late at night and have people in there going wild."
Ozzie, Rebecca and Rowen's french bulldog for Wellfed Creative Podcast
Ozzie the frenchie

Creating Spaces for People

  • Rebecca also had the opportunity to work on a co-working space in Jersey City called AndCo. Rebecca utilizes three core pillars when designing and developing spaces that people will potentially stay for hours in. Comfort, confidence and color. These three 'Cs' help her stay focused and create an underlying mission for each space.

Frankie

  • Frankie the restaurant that Rebecca and Rowen opened together is located in Jersey City. It was inspired by their trips to Australia, Australian surf culture and everlasting sunny days. The name Frankie came from Rebecca's chihuahua who has been with Rebecca ever since moving to Brooklyn and was a great icebreaker to meet new friends in the neighborhood.
  • The interior of the restaurant is filled with warm pinks, luscious green plants and a wide variety of art from local artists and friends. Everything from the tables and chairs used are from the 70s and builds a very comforting and inviting connection with guests.
  • In addition to serving guests great food and drink the restaurant also hosts events such as drink and draws on Tuesday nights and delicious disco series called Friends and Lovers.
Rebecca Johnson of Frankie Jersey City for Wellfed Creative Podcast
Rebecca Johnson of Frankie Jersey City

Natural Wines

  • Frankie prides itself on serving a wide selection of natural wines. Natural wines breaks free from the more commercial landscape of wine making and brings it into a more experiment realm. Natural wines introduces natural yeast to begin the fermentation process rather than adding any chemical strains. It also uses little to no sulfates to stabilize the wine, added sugars, extra chemicals or flavor enhances resulting in a 'cleaner' wine.
  • If you're new to natural wines don't be afraid. Rowen usually recommends a pét-nat to break the ice which is a sparkling wine and very delicious.
Rowen McDermott of Frankie for Wellfed Creative Podcast
Rowen McDermott of Frankie Jersey City

On The Horizon

  • Rebecca and Rowen plan to continue nurturing Frankie and growing the restaurant. They are currently thinking about opening a small pop-up experience either in Brooklyn or perhaps Australia. You can follow along on Instagram here.
  • They are also working on a project called 'The Swim Club' which will launch sometime in Jersey City but no further details.

Huge thank you to Rebecca and Rowen for taking the time to chat with me.

Don't forget to subscribe and listen where ever you get your podcasts.

Footnotes

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