A quest for work-life balance has led to an amicable parting of ways at one of the metro’s most prominent restaurant groups.
J.D. Fratzke, the chef-entrepreneur whose work at The Strip Club Meat and Fish made him a regional standout, has worked as a culinary director over the past three years for Matty O’Reilly to expand and improve O’Reilly’s burgeoning group of properties.
Most notable may be Fratzke’s front-of-house turn during the launching of the well-regarded Bar Brigade in St. Paul, establishing the seasonal Red River Kitchen at City House, and launching the Como Lake Pavilion restaurant Spring Cafe.
For Fratzke, three frantic years of growth, expansion, and team-building has led to this moment: an opportunity to step back and rebalance.
“I looked at the seasons and the fact the holidays were coming up and I decided to talk to Matty about stepping down from the company,” says Fratzke. “Now I’m just going to spend the next couple of weeks doing some writing and hanging out with my family. I’ve been essentially working full time in one way or another since I was 14 years old. I’ve never had an opportunity to do something like this before and I’m really excited to do that.”
Fratzke’s wife Lisa built him a study at their new house in South Minneapolis, and inhabiting the space helped him make the decision to step back from work, he says.
“I put all of my books up on the shelves and I hung some stuff on the wall and I had this sweet little place to write and all I was thinking was: ‘You will always find an excuse to work, and if you don’t stop doing that, you’re never going to use this room the way you want to—you’re never going to use it to write. You’re never going to use it as a place to do yoga and to meditate.’
“What I really want to do over the next couple of weeks is to take those things—yoga, writing, exercising, aikido—I want to make those things a daily habit, so anything I do next works around those habits… you know what I mean?”
Matty O’Reilly, for his part, hails the work Fratzke contributed and explains that his talent for hiring and mentoring has put his restaurant group on strong footing to face the future. “We shouldn’t miss a beat,” says O’Reilly. “He was empowering people and coaching people and leading people. […] If we did our jobs right, it’ll be like putting your finger in a glass of water—when you remove it, it snaps back together.”
“He’s such a cool, talented person and one of my best friends—I’ll miss seeing him all the time and working side by side with him, but ultimately I want him to be happy. This run we’ve had, in all honesty, for someone who co-owned two businesses that I wasn’t a part of to work for me as long as he did, I was lucky he stayed as long as he did. We made the most of it—we did some really cool projects and we’re a better company because he was a part of it, for sure.”