When Franny’s — the Brooklyn, New York favorite devoted to sustainable, Italian-inspired fare — introduced their event program in 2013, they had big plans for the holidays. The team knew they wanted to create unique, personal holiday events that would allow their cooks and front-of-house staff to spread their wings and engage with guests on a new level.
This week the restaurant hosted a Hanukkah dinner, and next they ‘e celebrating Christmas with a Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s the third consecutive year for both events, which practically “sell themselves,” according to Private Events Coordinator and Manager Julie Ann Dulude.
We asked Julie Ann all about Franny’s secrets to holiday success — here’s how they make the festive season extra special.
“Our Chef Johnathan Adler and our owners are Jewish, but a lot of the rest of us celebrate Christian holidays, like Christmas,” says Julie Ann. “We wanted to make sure that nobody felt left out. We said, rather than doing one generic holiday thing let’s get really specific and do Hanukkah dinner and a Feast of the Seven Fishes.”
The Hanukkah dinner attracts whole families (even some with young kids) who kick off a week of celebrations at the restaurant. The Feast of the Seven Fishes has a mix of regular Franny’s guests and people who read about it in the press.
Neither one of the dinners is very religious in nature, Julie Ann says. Instead, Franny’s focuses on the food, the wine, and the festive spirit around the occasions. Luca Pasquinelli, the GM and sommelier, pairs wine with the menu and guides guests through the meal, connecting the food and wine and telling the stories behind it.
“[Food] is a fun way to experience a holiday – it’s not necessarily about gifts, it’s about the special meal that you’re sharing. We like fostering that.”
Stay true to your brand.
Both Hanukkah and the Feast of the Seven Fishes have a connection to Italy, so the team does their homework to make the dinners authentic and unique.
There’s a long tradition of classic Jewish cuisine in Italy. Since Hanukkah is a celebration of oil, Chef Johnathan showcases beautiful, limited-edition olive oils (olio novellos) throughout the menu. “It’s our take on what we think a menu in Rome would look like,” says Julie Ann.
There’s much debate about the origin of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but it’s more Italian-American than truly Italian, Julie Ann says. “I did tons of research in southern Italy and Sicily to see if there was any documented information on it, and there really isn’t.” Still, the abundance of seafood in southern Italy and Sicily combined with the briny, mineral-driven wines make for a perfect food and wine experience.
Since local, sustainable sourcing is at the heart of the concept at Franny’s, the holiday menus also reflect that philosophy. Chef Johnathan will come down to the dining room and describe the growers and purveyors behind the ingredients, so guests know that they can trust the team to serve the best food possible, from start to finish.
Push your team’s creativity.
Along with launching the private event program, Franny’s also moved into a larger restaurant space a couple of years ago. With this growth, Julie Ann explains, “We really wanted to spread our wings and challenge ourselves.”
From the chefs and sous chefs to the GM, Luca, the team pushes themselves when planning holiday events. They test dishes and try techniques that they can’t on a regular Saturday night, when the restaurant is doing 300 covers.
Guests who come in regularly to sit at the bar and enjoy a pizza and Chianti are blown away when they experience the holiday menus. Franny’s cooks — some of whom have worked at Per Se, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill — have an exciting opportunity to showcase their wide-ranging skills. “Just because we don’t have these things on our menu every day doesn’t mean we don’t love getting to work with them.”
The teamwork is a huge part of what makes the holiday events special, too. “They are dear to us because all of us have worked on them together to make them what they are,” says Julie Ann. “We have repeat guests who come back every year and look forward to it.”
The nine-person kitchen team sits down together to talk through each dish: What should the pasta course be? Should they do a handmade pasta? From there, they will research pasta in different regions and find out what’s available from their line-caught fish producer. Throwing ideas around and studying up to create an exciting dinner menu is rewarding and fun for the cooks.
Make it personal & communal.
While the events aren’t religious in nature, Franny’s does try to make them feel personal and bring an element of warmth and celebration to the room.
At the Hanukkah dinner, owner Francine Stephens lead the group in singing the Hanukkah song. Then, they go around the room and give everyone a chance to share a story, memory, dish, or favorite food associated with the holiday.
Additionally, guests sit side by side at long tables, and dishes are served family style on large platters. “It’s very beautiful – I don’t want to say it’s casual – but it’s about comfort and sharing. We try to keep it not formal, like you’re at home.”
Photos courtesy of Franny’s.