Frankies Spuntino—also known as Frankies 17—doesn't take reservations.  

Instead, the customers who flock to the Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side are met by a young man with a pen, a pad of paper, and a cell phone.

“The entire Lower East Side and half of the East Village has my cell phone number,” general manager Brian Jacobs (’07) jokes on a recent busy night. With the help of an interpreter and some artful gesticulating, he tells a group of Swiss tourists to return for a table in 45 minutes. Moments later, he’s on his cell phone saying, “Hi, Joshua?  It’s Brian from Frankies 17.…” A few minutes after that—after a spin around the restaurant to grind fresh pepper at one table, clear dishes from another, run food to another, uncork a bottle and pour wine at another—he’s back on the phone. “Hi, I’m looking for George,” he says, “It’s Frankies 17 calling.”

At Frankies, Jacobs is part waiter, banker, schedule-writer, maintenance man, dishwasher, and—when callers ask, “What is the wait for four going to be at eight o’clock?”— part politician.  “Your job as a manager should be to make everybody’s life easier,” Jacobs says.  And while there are plenty of people in New York City who juggle these responsibilities, at 26 years old, Jacobs is more than ten years below the average age for such a position, according to industry data.

© Frankies Spuntino

Jacobs says he embraced the restaurant life while a student in Ann Arbor, majoring in history. Interested in learning more about the hospitality business, he approached the owners of Zingerman’s Deli with the idea for a “Zingternship,” where he would rotate shifts through the company’s office, restaurant, and catering division. They agreed, and, by the time he worked at the deli counter, he was hooked. After he graduated, he enlisted in the Manager-in-Training program at New York’s Tribeca Grill (co-owned by actor Robert De Niro), where he scrubbed walk-ins and ordered supplies during the day and bartended, hosted, and served tables by night.

Though he has also donned a suit and taken reservations formally at restaurant doors, Frankies is not that kind of place and Jacobs is not that kind of guy—not at heart, anyway. Frankies is more like a busy relative’s house where guests, in order to put their name on the waiting list, must actually come inside, walking past shelves stacked with red wine bottles and leather-bound copies of Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual. They must maneuver around tables where young people in jeans and plaid shirts stab at steaming plates of linguine. 

People in New York crave a kitchen table,” Jacobs says. To that end, the décor at Frankies is simple: bare brick walls, bare wood tables, bare light bulbs. The aromas wafting from the open kitchen—sage from the sweet potato ravioli, caramelized sugar from the vanilla bean crème bruleé—are potent. This is not a corporate kitchen.

By the end of the night, the crowds have thinned and the Swiss men have returned. They combine tables with a young couple next to them and are laughing and shouting toasts in a mix of French and English. This is his favorite part of the job, Jacobs says: when the rush subsides and he has a minute to thank the kitchen staff and discuss the night over a beer with an off-duty server. “You can look out over the few tables that are left and people have made new friends and people are finishing drinks and enjoying their late-night meal,” he says.  After a moment, he adds—as if he’s already thinking about tomorrow—“and you can’t get there without the busy part.”

Love food? Stay tuned for more stories about faculty, students, and alumni studying, eating, and enjoying food in the spring 2012 issue of LSA Magazine. Nom nom!