jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

Girls like Maya Jankelowitz awaken our inner appetite for fashion and food. The co-founder of Jack’s Wife Freda proves that when it comes to style in the city the streets of NYC are the perfect stage! Though in the case of our recent hang with her, Maya shared that she feels most like herself during her day-to-day at the restaurants. With two thriving locations under her belt (in two of our favorite neighborhoods no less), a lively community of friends, family and tastemakers as her customers, and exciting special projects in the works (we wish we could tell you what she’s got in the works!) Maya STILL made time to have us over at Carmine. We followed her for a morning as she set-up shop with her equally inspiring crew of waitresses, bartenders and her partner in crime Dean who even made a little cameo appearance as you’ll see below. During our morning together we chatted with Maya about what makes Jack’s Wife Freda a truly special NYC spot, where you’ll find her when she’s NOT working and how she’s keeping things simple and sweet even in the city that never sleeps.

Hey Maya! Thanks so much for having us over. We love eating here and following along on Instagram, but what parts of your story are we missing? From one city girl to another give us the story on JWF from an insider’s perspective.

I’m Maya Jankelowitz of Jack’s Wife Freda. We have two restaurants. We opened one little restaurant in Soho almost five years ago. It was a complete miracle! They are such “neighborhood” places and our location here on Carmine street opened almost two years ago and they are both doing great. We get all types of people who I think really feel comfortable – for whatever reason it really is the energy! Some people are connected to the food, to the bar, to the service… it’s all of those elements together and I think that every person who works here and comes here, their energy is directly in the room. You can come say hello, have a juice, celebrate a birthday, bring your mom, you can propose. Tourists come, locals come, famous people come, old and young. It’s meant to be a safe space.

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

For sure! We definitely frequent both locations and love that they happen to be in two of our favorite neighborhoods. What draws you the most to these areas and how is each restaurant reflective of that neighborhood’s culture?

We didn’t plan to actually open a place on this block, so everything was miraculously in place and all of the elements came together. The first location on Lafayette took us four years of searching! I remember I just had my first son and we knew we had to do more and it took us four years to find that place. We said the words, “Jack’s wife Freda” and everyone laughed at us! They thought it was the most ridiculous name ever. We had an investor who said that no one would invest in such a “ridiculous” name and told us to find something more vanilla and safe. Jack and Freda are my husband Dean’s grandparents, and you know the funny thing is that almost every day somebody comes in and has a “Jack and Freda” story and will share their connections! Everyone has a connection to THE Jack and Freda or their own Jack and Freda. There really is six degrees of separation, so that’s just a fun thing and we just love to know everyone in here and let them tell their story and be seen and heard. I personally think that’s a nice thing to do while you’re having eggs or a kale salad!

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

We totally agree and even with how busy it is, the overall vibe here is so homey and comforting – we love it! But honestly, how does it feel to come to work every day and have a massive crowd (of seriously stylish people!) waiting outside your door? 

I love it! I think going back to that six degrees of separation – a lot of times you’ll be in here and you’ll know somebody or your friend knows somebody and then you’ll say hi across the room to the person in the corner booth. It’s an extension of that safe place I mentioned earlier.

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

There’s a lot of talk about the relationship between fashion and food. Do you prefer one over the other?

Fashion is a real hobby. I love clothes and I love all things that come with it, but even before we opened Jack’s Wife Freda, I always worked in restaurants and I always had crazy outfits. I felt like restaurants were a perfect stage to get dressed, so I know for a lot of people there is fashion week or they go out (and I usually wear my sweats when I go out) but in the restaurant it feels like a stage. We’re hosting all of these people and it’s kind of like having the best dinner party ever – your friends are coming and they are bringing friends and you want to make sure everyone is having a great time. So how nice is it for the hostess to have a great dress? Even before Jack’s Wife Freda, I worked at Balthazar for fourteen years and I always had crazy outfits. It was WAY before iPhones, but I used to take a selfie everyday before work with a regular film camera wearing the weirdest things! I have hundreds of pictures of myself standing in the same place every day. I would it put it on the window and put on the ten second timer and I would take the photos. Now I look back and I was like, “What was I thinking!?” Crazy, crazy outfits…

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

Aw, we’re sure you looked amazing! Speaking of which, do city girls here in NYC inspire your style?

When we opened, I met Leandra (of Man Repeller) and generally a lot of people who were coming in were from Soho, so I was always around fashion people. There were a lot of Marc Jacobs girls coming in because their offices were around the corner, and they were talking one morning about how they saw “the man repeller” and I had no idea what that was! But then I finally met Leandra we had this great connection and now we’re good friends. Honestly, she just reminds me of myself so much. You know you when you wake up in the morning and you don’t know what to wear? Well she just gives me that reminder that I can pull things off! I just think she’s very true to herself and I just think that’s the most important thing. It’s good to see and get inspired but it’s good to get your own thing. She has that and it definitely helps me. But there are so many inspiring and beautiful women that have come here. Winnie of Warm NY also comes in all of the time and I love her too.

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

We couldn’t agree more! Aside from the amazing style here at JWF when you’re between both Soho and West Village, where can we find you when you’re NOT at JWF? 

My kid’s school, my doctor (I usually have a cast on my foot!) which is right across the street from Barney’s which is good, or at my physical therapy in Soho. It’s not that exciting!

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

If we were to follow you on your route to work what would we see you doing? What is your usual mode of transportation? 

Well, I come to work after I drop the kids at school, so it’s almost like a miracle that I get here because between getting the kids ready in the morning, making their school lunch and calling an Uber to get to their school… I am happy to just have a peaceful walk from the school.

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

You work with such cool creative people like Paperwhite Studio and Curtis Kulig. How did you first meet them and how have they shaped your NYC experience?

Everyone is a natural connection. Lorraine who is the founder of Paperwhite Studio is actually my best friend’s cousin. She was out of school when we needed to put the menus together and she couldn’t have made it easier! With Curtis, we always sort of knew each other and we bartered so he gives us art and we give him food! We do a lot of that with the artists in the neighborhood but everything has been natural. With everything on Instagram and where that’s all going, everything here in the restaurant is still old fashioned and human. We have people coming trying to sell us the iPads every day to take an order, but when I see the way they are holding the pad and a pen it just feels nostalgic! The talking is getting less and less and less because we all have this six degrees of separation on our phone or whatever – so I love keeping these little things alive. The restaurant is the best place for that, to have the basic elements of humanity and to have people eating and drinking.

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

We saw your recent takeover at Roundhill Resort. The fashion and food scene there must be beautiful! With that, talk to us about travel. Where do you go when you want to escape the city? When you want to find fashion and food inspiration? When you want to enjoy the little things? 

With Jamaica, we go there every year to specific places – I think it just reminds of here. We just bought a decorative pineapple accent on our trip recently. They have pineapples all over the resort and we just discovered a few years ago that the pineapple represents hospitality (when Christopher Columbus came to America the natives brought him a pineapple as a welcome to our grounds!). I think it’s the whole idea that it’s prickly and hard on the outside but juicy and sweet on the inside and that’s what they wanted to give! That pineapple is all over this place in Jamaica and I think that’s why we love it so much. They remember our names, the kid’s names and yeah it’s great. I want to go everywhere though! The first few years we worked, we never took a vacation and never had a weekend, so being able to go and meditate and do some yoga is great.

 jack's wife freda overt nyc follow the girl west village maya jankelowitz

Photos by Bridget Badore for OVERT NYC