The Last Laugh

This has been a bittersweet year for restaurateur Jimmy Frantze. The low point of 2007 was having to close Frondizi’s, his seven-year-old Italian restaurant on the Plaza, after he couldn’t come to terms with his landlord. The high point has come at the end of the year: This month, the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the Missouri Restaurant Association named Frantze “Restaurateur of the Year.”

The charismatic, gravel-voiced owner of J.J.’s Restaurant will be honored at the association’s annual black-tie gala on January 19.

I asked Frantze what his duties as “Restaurateur of the Year” would be. “I think I have to smile a lot,” he said with a laugh.

At least Frantze can smile after stewing through several months of unsuccessful negotiations with American Century Real Estate; he closed Frondizi’s in May. But now that the dust has settled and Frantze has moved most of the Frondizi’s staff — including the talented chef Linda Duerr — to J.J.’s, he’s relieved.

“I loved Frondizi’s, but it was a costly operation,” Frantze said. “And we’ve also had a couple of rough years at J.J.’s because of the construction across the street.”

That’s an understatement. Work on the West Edge — ad mogul Bob Bernstein‘s office-retail-hotel complex — has turned that side of the Plaza upside down for many months. But Frantze sees a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

“The project is due to be completed in 13 months, and it will be sensational,” he says. “And there will be 14,000 parking spaces all with access to our street.”

He plans to build a dining deck on the roof of his building and has let Duerr make some significant changes to the menu, which hasn’t evolved much in the past decade.

All in all, Frantze admits that 2007 wasn’t that bad.

“I grew up in a blue-collar family,” he adds, “but I’ve met politicians, celebrities, tycoons. Everyone who comes to the restaurant wants to meet the owner. This industry has been fabulous to me.”

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