Don’t turn around right away,” whispered my friend Bob, half-leaning across the table. “There’s a celebrity sitting behind you.”
We were having lunch at Frondizi’s (4558 Main) the day after the Golden Globe Awards. So when I heard the word celebrity, I was thinking of someone with some star wattage — say, Beyonce Knowles or Leonardo DiCaprio. When I finally turned around to see who was sitting at the window table, I was almost crestfallen to see Mayor Kay Barnes.
She is a local celebrity, and to her credit, she was looking pretty chic in a tailored red-knit jacket and without those schoolmarmish glasses. She was dining with three female friends, and they were chatty and festive.
“Kay comes in here a lot,” one of the managers told me later. “She really likes this restaurant. I just wish she would do something to help us stay here.”
Stay here? Oh, yes, there is that ongoing lease issue between Frondizi’s owner Jimmy Frantze and the building’s owner, American Century Real Estate. Frantze has been negotiating with American Century for more than a year, since the company reportedly proposed increasing Frantze’s rent. American Century extended Frantze’s lease through April 30; several high-profile chefs have reportedly looked at the space.
“We’re still in negotiations,” Frantze says. He adds that he doesn’t want to move out of the space that he spent a small fortune (about $400,000, according to one insider) rehabbing in 1999. “We’ve built up a very solid clientele in the last seven years, and I’d like to recoup my investment in this restaurant.”
Publicity about Frondizi’s losing its lease has led some diners to think that the restaurant is already closed. “The process has definitely affected our business,” Frantze says. “And I can’t book parties in May or June because we don’t know if we’ll be here or not.”
One thing Frantze does know: He won’t move Frondizi’s to another location if the lease ends. “I’ll put all my focus on J.J.’s,” he says, referring to his first restaurant, at 910 West 48th Street. “And I’ll find something for our chef, Linda Duerr. She’s absolutely fabulous. I would hate to lose her.”
He’s right. In my book, Linda’s a real celebrity, too.