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Spinnin' tunes, spinnin' pizza

Longtime DJ Joe Aiello dips his toes into restaurants with Frankie's Italian Kitchen & Bar

Anyone in Winnipeg who owns a radio can instantly recognize the voice of Joe Aiello. Over the course of the last three decades, Aiello has carved out a distinguished career on the city’s FM dial; in addition to co-hosting the weekday morning show at Corus Entertainment-owned Power 97, he is also program director for that station as well as Corus sister station Peggy 99.1.

Frankie's Italian Kitchen & Bar may resemble just another chain resto, but almost everything on the menu is made in-house. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Frankie's Italian Kitchen & Bar may resemble just another chain resto, but almost everything on the menu is made in-house. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Lately, though, you’re just as likely to hear his voice over the clatter of plates and clinking of glasses at Frankie’s Italian Kitchen & Bar, a 5,600 square-foot eatery opened by Joe and his cousin Raffaele (Raf) earlier in January. The third of its kind in Canada, the Winnipeg Frankie’s is at 505 Sterling Lyon Parkway, near Outlet Collection Winnipeg at Seasons. Raf opened the first Frankie’s location in Chilliwack, B.C., in 2010, when he moved west after cutting his teeth in the restaurant business in Winnipeg in the 1990s. The Vancouver location opened in 2011.

"We’ve talked about this forever, since we grew up here together, and the timing seemed to be right," says Joe (who is also a partner in the Chilliwack location) while he and Raf greet many of the guests in the Frankie’s lounge a week after their opening day. "I’ve been around for 32 years in radio; this is a passion of mine too, but I’m still learning the business. It’s been fun hanging around a place I can call home. Hopefully that’s the same experience customers get."

In addition to pizzas featuring made-from-scratch crusts, several pasta dishes and a lamb shank are on the menu. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

In addition to pizzas featuring made-from-scratch crusts, several pasta dishes and a lamb shank are on the menu. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Named after Francesco Raffaele Aiello, Joe and Raf’s grandfather, the two Frankie’s locations in B.C. were the blueprint for the Winnipeg location, which seats 185 in the restaurant and lounge. It will add a 100-seat patio in warmer temperatures.

"This has been in the mix for three years now," Raf says. "We wanted something modelled after our Chilliwack location. It’s a proven concept now. Winnipeg has a lot of great restaurants — a lot of great Italian restaurants — and we felt we needed to do something to distinguish ourselves."

While there are no red-checkered tablecloths or candles jammed into wax-covered wicker Chianti bottles, the Aiellos did manage to retain hints of Old World charm in their brand-new building. Surrounding the clean, modern lines of the furniture and flatware at Frankie’s are black-and-white photos of the Aiello family from across the last century, including big family dinners hosted by Raf’s family in their Home Street residence’s unfinished basement, with a lengthy table (complete with classic tablecloth) set up to accommodate the extended family.

New Portage possibilities

Paradise lost, but a garden is found: Garden House is opening soon at the Portage Avenue location of the former Paradise Restaurant.</p>

Paradise lost, but a garden is found: Garden House is opening soon at the Portage Avenue location of the former Paradise Restaurant.

Portage Avenue is seeing its fair share of new eateries setting up shop in familiar spots:

Spice Circle, an East Indian eatery, has opened its doors at 2015 Portage Ave., in the space formerly occupied by Gus & Tony's (and, before that, the Park Tower).

Portage Avenue is seeing its fair share of new eateries setting up shop in familiar spots:

Spice Circle, an East Indian eatery, has opened its doors at 2015 Portage Ave., in the space formerly occupied by Gus & Tony's (and, before that, the Park Tower).

French bistro Café se Soir, formerly located at 937 Portage Ave., is now home to Amber KHK, a Syrian eatery featuring falafel, shawarma and more.

Just up the road, Paradise Restaurant's long-standing location at 789 Portage Ave., will soon be home to Garden House, another East Indian spot, according to signage on the building.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 26 the folks at Chew in River Heights (532 Waterloo St.) announced via social media that they had shuttered that location to move all their business under one roof, that of their newer Exchange District-based project Lark (91 Albert St.).

"We wanted to keep our heritage alive, keep the classic feel, but tie it into a modern, contemporary look," says Raf. "We think we’ve captured that."

Frankie’s might not look that different from many nearby chain eateries from the outside, but one of the primary differences is practically everything is made in house.

"We take great pride in telling people we’ve got a scratch kitchen," Raf says. "Our pasta, our pizza dough, our focaccia is all made fresh here."

Among the specialties at Frankie’s are their meatballs and aroncini for appetizers, rigatoni salsiccia and Nonna Maria’s lasagna among pasta dishes, as well as an entree of lamb shank.

Raf plans to commute between B.C. and Manitoba as the Winnipeg location of Frankie’s gets going, and Joe’s plan is to let the staff take care of the day-to-day routine and, for lack of a better term, stick to his day job.

"I’m just sort of playing it by ear right now, just feeling it out; I still love what I’m doing," he says.

"We have a great staff, and I have a seat at the bar if I want one."

Cousins Joe (left) and Raffaele Aiello have opened Frankie’s Italian Kitchen & Bar on Sterling Lyon Parkway. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Cousins Joe (left) and Raffaele Aiello have opened Frankie’s Italian Kitchen & Bar on Sterling Lyon Parkway. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

ben.macphee-sigurdson@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @bensigurdson

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History

Updated on Thursday, January 30, 2020 at 10:07 AM CST: Corrects name of Outlet Collection Winnipeg.

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