By Kasia Dietz
Maya Jankelowitz and her husband Dean own Jack’s Wife Freda, a restaurant named after Dean’s grandparents, that first opened on Lafayette Street in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood in early 2012. Expansions followed to the West Village and Chelsea, then across the Pacific to Japan. Earlier in 2022, they opened another New York location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And in April 2022, they opened a new flagship location in Soho, marking the occasion with something unusual: a restaurant “trailer.” The video features the Jankelowitzes as well as a revolving cast of staff and friendly celebs, like actress Piper Perabo, designer Waris Ahluwalia, and writer Leandra Medine Cohen among others, all shot in a very Wes Anderson vibe.
We opened our first location on Lafayette Street a little over 10 years ago. The only story we really have to tell is what happens in the restaurant every day—kind of like that idea of the theater. We form many relationships, and we’ve created a community of our guests. Whether they’re long-term New Yorkers or short-term relationships, we call them regulars.
We met Laura Kosann when we first opened. She and her sister Danielle have a creative studio called The New Potato, which is awesome, and they always photograph fabulous celebrities. I contacted Laura at some point over the last year, because our creative juices wanted to do something more. We bring all that creativity to the floor every day.
So we chatted about it. And it took time. We planted the seed months ago. We have the same sense of humor and way of storytelling. That was something that we knew we had in common. We wanted to do a story that she would help us tell about what really happens in the restaurant.
I was talking to Laura back in the summer, and it was super quick. She was pregnant back then. And she was so on board. We wrote the script right away. I texted everybody that day, and everybody was up for it. Once Laura was ready, we wrapped it up pretty quick. It was in February when we shot it. So it was a little challenging because it was COVID times again. We all worked for 12 hours on set. One day of shooting, and one day of editing.
We didn’t plan for it to be an homage to Wes Anderson. That may have subconsciously come to life through the process of producing the movie with Laura, the back and forth, fine-tuning all the details—she would often call me “M. Gustave,” based on the character in Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel played by Ralph Fiennes. He’s shown as meticulous, hospitable, and accommodating to all his guests, charming everyone in his wake. We laughed over this often, and calling me M. Gustave eventually turned into M. Jankelowitz. That may be why the names in the movie are just the first initial. I think our styles just aligned organically, and we couldn’t be happier with the whimsical approach.
Piper Perabo is in the cast—one of the first people who believed in us. We knew her way before we opened Jack’s Wife Freda, so she’s not only a dear friend, but she’s more than that. She really was always such a true believer and supporter, her energy and her faith in myself and Dean was always there, and it really was a key moment in our path of growing and believing in ourselves. She also was an investor in our first location. So having Piper contribute to the little movie was so much more meaningful than, you know, having Piper as an actress, as amazing an actress as she is.
Waris Ahluwalia is also a dear friend, and we’ve gotten closer and closer over the years. We’ve known each other before we opened the restaurant, but we really bonded once we opened and Dean worked out with him at the same gym. And he has the most amazing tea and wellness company called House of Waris Botanicals. Before he even went live with that, we were honored to serve his tea at all of our locations. So we love seeing it in the restaurant, and we love when Waris comes to visit because it always adds to the energy in the room.
Leandra Medine Cohen is like my SoHo soul sister. We met when we opened—we were both taking off in our respective lives, and we kind of got to grow together. She got to spend a lot of time in the dining room with us. And we have the Jewish Sephardic background that we connected over immediately, and our love for fashion. She’s almost like my private fashion stylist advisor. She is one of the funniest and most authentic people I’ve met. She and Waris are like the leads in the movie. She carried it so incredibly, and I can’t wait to see more of her on the big screen, because she’s just a delight.
We also knew Vashtie Kola before we opened Jack’s Wife Freda. When Dean was working at Schiller’s, she would DJ with our friend Rob Lee. We produce the restaurant every single day, over and over, but to produce this tiny little movie was so humbling. There were still so many moving parts, but to see the five of these people show up was so heartwarming and heart-filling.
And we met Dan White years ago when he started this show in the NoMad Hotel. Dean took me to his show when he just opened. He was so beautiful, his soul was so sincere, and it was the most amazing show ever. I will never forget how I felt when I walked in for the first time. And of course, eventually, we went back, over and over. We took our kids, and every time someone was in town, we would take them. And then we took our whole management staff so they could learn about magic and bring it back to the restaurant, because everything is magic at the end of the day when it feels good.
The revolving cast of characters is like a colorful palette, and in the movie, everyone is living in the restaurant, in their comfort zones. It’s just this simple, yet whimsical manifestation of our relationship with Laura, but also with the rest of the cast. Some of them are the real servers at the restaurant, and the others are my two little boys. It’s a cute little two-minute movie, but it really is like that. We want everyone to be themselves, staff and guests alike.