Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg are creating a food empire on a grimy stretch of Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue.
Ten years ago the couple opened Franny’s, an acclaimed Italian restaurant that recently moved a few blocks away and doubled in size. That was joined in 2009 by Bklyn Larder, a cheese and provisions shop that stocks many delicacies made by Brooklyn’s booming artisanal food producers.
They’ve just published a gorgeous cookbook, “Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian” (Artisan, $35). And in September, they’re planning to open a new trattoria, Marco’s, in the old Franny’s space.
Over lunch at Bloomberg, they discussed pizza dough, their kids and drinking cocktails at Applebee’s.
Muchnick: What makes your pizza so special? Is there a secret?
Stephens: It’s all in the book. We have no secrets.
Feinberg: It’s simple -- it’s flour, water, salt and yeast. I think what makes it different is that we are always working on it. The pizza dough that we opened up with 10 years ago isn’t the same recipe.
I’m always eating it. Does it taste good? Is it crunchy enough? Is it billowy enough? How’s the crust? It’s alive. It’s bread dough so it always needs tweaking.
Muchnick: How did you translate it for the cookbook?
Stephens: We had to figure out how to get what was closest to Franny’s pizza, which comes out of a brick oven, out of your home oven. So Andrew and Melissa Clark, who wrote the book with us, developed this broiler technique which is pretty cool and makes a great pizza.
Muchnick: Do you eat out when you’re not working?
Feinberg: I am so one-tracked, I always want to eat Italian food.
Stephens: I’m always like, Andrew, let’s go for sushi. Why would we eat sushi if we could have pasta? Well, because sushi might be nice, you know. We have this conversation every day.
Muchnick: You have a restaurant, Marco’s, named after one of your two children and you don’t anticipate fallout on this?
Stephens: My daughter has a great line. Her name is Prue. She says, “Well, Prue is a great name for a little girl but not for a restaurant.” People ask her that all the time and that’s her answer. Luckily she’s a steady girl.
Muchnick: Can you tell us what your neighborhood was like when you opened Franny’s?
Stephens: There was nothing on our block. The old Franny’s had been empty for about three years, and before that it was a pet store. There were old fish tanks in the basements. It was very scary.
We had to peel off layers of the wall, there were insects. I took my mother to this space...
Feinberg: Things you probably don’t want to hear about.
Stephens: No. My mother cried because we had been looking for a space for quite some time. I said, “Mom, we found it. Here it is.” She literally cried.
Of course, 10 years later, the Barclays Center is a few blocks away, all these restaurants are popping up and a few clothing stores. The money is there now in a way that it was absolutely not there.
Muchnick: What made you go to Flatbush Avenue at that time?
Feinberg: The rent was cheap and it’s just where we wanted to be.
Stephens: Our whole goal in life is to walk to work. We lived on Flatbush about three blocks from the old Franny’s. Then we moved. But always it was just to create a neighborhood that we wanted to be in. That’s why we opened our food store, the Larder, three blocks away, too.
Muchnick: Marco’s is opening soon. How do you price the menu? Do you do any market research to see what other places are charging?
Stephens: Not for food, but a little more in the world of cocktails and wine, specifically cocktails because you make such a good margin. So we do look at other cocktail menus to see what people will pay.
Feinberg: When we first opened, the gentleman who sold us our point-of-sale system was knowledgeable and he said we had no idea how to price our cocktails.
He told us, “Go to Applebee’s because they do all the work and they know exactly what the cost of all the liquors are. Just go there and have a drink and figure out what they’re charging.” So that’s what we did.
(Laurie Muchnick is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.