The day I went to sign the lease for Frank Restaurant was very dramatic… because I knew at that time I had awful credit. It was 1998 and no one really wanted that tiny space so I was hopeful the landlord wouldn’t want to run my credit. Every second I was just waiting for the ball to drop but it never did. And in the moment we both signed, I knew I had beaten the odds and my life was about to change drastically. I never looked back.
We had four of our best restaurant managers on respirators in Elmhurst hospital in Queens during COVID. Each day passed and we didn’t know if they would make it. Two of them – Miguel and David – both showed signs of recovery and then died suddenly. My best Pizzaiolo at Lil Frankie’s, Raffeale, didn’t die but lost the dexterity in his right hand so he can’t make pizza anymore. A sous chef named Winny recovered completely, thank God. We really are a family and it shook us all to our core losing them.
All up, we did 70 catering runs to the local hospitals. This cost me a fortune but it’s also created an enormous amount of loyalty and trust. As soon as the city re-opened outdoor dining, we were the busiest restaurant group in the area. We were financially healthy enough to stay open and be there for our neighbourhood during the pandemic – and we’ve been breaking even this summer.
I heard that all the cafeterias in the hospitals were closed and they were giving out vouchers for McDonalds to the medical teams. The thought of those heroes, eating literal shit food while they were saving our lives infuriated me. We put together the simplest healthiest catering menu with tons of arugula, broccoli, garlic and oil, with our famous rigatoni ragu and simple penne pomodoro, roasted chicken and seared salmon to give them the nutrients they needed to boost their immune systems and the energy to keep fighting for us.
My staff hunkered down and delivered food to hospitals in their own cars… I made another announcement on Instagram asking for donations to help us pay for the food and the floodgates opened. People were able to sponsor their favourite hospitals directly through us. We mobilised my reservation team remotely to answer all the calls and raised close to USD $40,000 in donations.
People who left the city with no plans of returning weren’t real New Yorkers. I think of it like a cleansing. Good riddance. We make room for the next crop of dreamers to come in at a reduced rent and to make New York stronger than ever. We are the toughest city in the world.
I hope to take advantage of the cheaper rents… and get another restaurant open next year to lead the recovery. We will be business as usual every day, providing the best Italian food in NYC to our neighbourhood, keeping everyone happy and well fed.
What do I miss about the old New York? Nothing comes to mind. The past is the past. F*ck the past. Give me the bright future. This pandemic has brought NYC together more than ever before. We all have one goal: survive and thrive.
Follow Frank @frankprisinzano