We like to call it an immigrant’s love story: Restaurateur Maya Jankelowitz

Israeli-American Maya Jankelowitz is a restaurateur living in New York City. She’s one of the faces behind Jack’s Wife Freda, a lively all-day bistro serving American-Mediterranean cuisine. She speaks to Aerostorie about the unsurpassed hospitality of her husband’s grandparents and the enduring power of flavour to travel and tell stories.

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“We live downtown in New York. I’m married to my husband Dean and we own and operate our restaurants together. We have two little boys, there’s lots of running around!

Jack and Freda were my husband, Dean’s grandparents. Freda is associated with the memory of home, of soul, of being, of welcoming. Dean’s grandmother Freda was an incredible host, gracious and warm, always having family, friends, and complete strangers over - and always lots of food. One day we woke up and said ‘Jack’s Wife Freda’ for the name of the restaurant, we laughed and laughed some more, and then said ‘why not?’

Traveling always inspires new flavors, new energy. Parisian cafe vibe was our inspiration, we love the vibes of the cafes in Paris, the simplicity and basic cafe elements which make you feel comfortable to swing by for a quick espresso, maybe have a long lunch, bring your family, bring a first date, or have a three-course dinner, you can be comfortable to go in to do whatever you want and you're encouraged to.

We have also drawn on our backgrounds, Israel and South Africa respectively, and our family histories to bring appealing new flavor to an urban archetype. If you were going to give the cuisine a long and unwieldy name, it might be South African Israeli Jewish Grandmother Cuisine; that was the name given by New York Magazine.

We love and know all our regulars and what they love and love making and learning what people enjoy. We love making new friends and learning what they love, we love introducing new flavors to people who have never had any of our dishes before. I feel most at home in New York, enjoying my husband’s cooking and being at Jack’s Wife Freda.

We’re also busy working on a cookbook. We love the idea of creating a cookbook not just including food and recipes, but also the atmosphere. This is just as important, if not more, than the food. All our recipes have some story that is part of our history or memory but beyond the food is also our story. We like to call it ‘an immigrant’s love story’ as it tells the generational story from Jack and Freda (Dean’s grandparents), my grandparents, our childhoods and really how we landed up in New York City, with similar circumstances.

There is a sense of traveling home when eating at Jack’s Wife Freda or reading from the cook book. There’s no mistake that the restaurants are named after Dean’s grandparents.

Everyone has an origin story, mine and Dean’s started some 6,000 miles apart and eventually converged in a love song to New York… The book takes us back to South Africa and Israel and can relate to anyone who came to the city with a dream and the capacity to believe.”