Dishin’ out comfort during tough times

Comfort food hits the spot when times are tense.

Julie Criss answers the phone while working at Frankie’s Pizza & Pasta. Criss also works as a realtor

Comfort food hits the spot when times are tense.

As consumers pinch pennies, restaurants known for familiar and filling dishes, congenial service and moderate prices are still seeing their regular patrons.

They may not come in quite as often or may order fewer courses, but they’re not disappearing, according to Frankie Curtiss, who co-owns downtown Redmond’s Frankie’s Pizza & Pasta, “Your Friendly Neighborhood Italian Cafe,” with his wife Rhonda.

Over the course of 16 years, the Curtiss family, which includes son Chris, the restaurant manager, has been well-known for its support of local school charities. And it has recently hired some help from its frequent customer base, many of whom have lost jobs or are seeing a work slowdown.

Server Julie Criss, a single mom who lives on the Redmond-Woodinville border, described Frankie’s as her “favorite place to eat forever.”

“I even named my pug Frankie,” she confided, laughing.

Criss has been a realtor the past five years but hasn’t closed a sale in months. Eating at Frankie’s with her daughter one evening, she noticed a “Help Wanted” sign. On the spur of the moment, she asked Frankie, “Would you give me a job?

He incredulously responded, “You would work here?”

Criss, who’d had restaurant jobs in high school and college replied, “Sure, why not?” The work is now physically harder than she remembered, “but I never realized how much I was sitting around,” she said. “I feel like I’m showing my kids, when times get rough, you buckle down and do what you have to do. Our generation has a different work ethic.”

We asked Frankie if business has suffered in the wake of Microsoft’s layoffs. He said maybe 10-20 percent of his customers are or were affiliated with Microsoft and that he knows as many or more people who’ve been laid off from Redmond’s Genie Industries.

“It’s a very cyclical business. When construction is down, their business is down,” he pointed out. “I’ve heard many Microsoft people who got laid off will be re-hired in other areas.”

Still, people are nervous about the economy, Frankie commented. Everyone knows someone who’s going through a slump.

“As people get nervous, they go out less, tighten the belt,” he said. And yet, “we’re far more fortunate than high-end restaurants. I’ve heard from our wine reps that significant numbers of staff are being laid off there. We’re feeling some effects, but we’re reasonably priced, family-oriented and have a high number of loyal neighborhood customers.”

The increase in the minimum wage will have a marked effect on his bottom line, he noted, but he is hoping that he’ll continue to see a steady flow of business. So far, he hasn’t laid off any of his staff, although he has reduced some weeknight hours. And “we’re working hard to manage our supplies, save energy, anything we can do to reduce waste.”

Diners seem to be doing that, too.

He’s seeing some people splitting salads or entrees, “but they still want to go out. Maybe they’re buying down a little. Our mid-range beers and wines are selling well.”

Meanwhile, “people remain cognizant of the need for tipping,” he said. “For the most part, people are still generous.”

There seems to be a feeling that “we’re all in this together,” and Frankie concluded, “We hope the media will make an attempt to look at the positives, give people confidence,” to believe that the poor economy will turn around.

Frankie’s Pizza & Pasta is located at 16630 Redmond Way. For menu and other information, call (425) 883-8407 or visit

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