Maya Jankelowitz and her husband Dean are the geniuses behind the New York restaurant establishments, Jack’s Wife Freda (named after Dean’s grandparents). Not only is their food comforting (mmmm, matzah ball soup), but the homey vibe makes you want to stay a while — and take a million Instagram pics. You’re likely to see Maya on the floor, a flash of bright colors and a welcoming smile. Here, the mother of two chats about taking selfies before “selfies” were a thing, the fun of dressing up for work and getting pedicures with her son…
You have such amazing style! When did your love of bold fashion start?
When I started working in restaurants at 21, I got really into dressing up for work. Being in New York and exposed to all the fashion, it felt natural to get dressed up. But I was working 60 hours a week as the maître d’ at Balthazar (which is where I met my husband), so I didn’t have much time to go out. So the restaurant became kind of like a stage — and dressing up made it much more fun to be there. In the late 90s, before there were iPhones, I would put my film camera on the windowsill and use the 10-second function to take a selfie of my outfit before work. It became a side hobby.
So you were basically fashion blogging before fashion bloggers. Do you still do it?
Taking fashion really seriously — and taking photos every day — is basically another job. I have two restaurants, a cookbook coming out next year and two kids, so I don’t have as much time for it anymore. But I still have fun with fashion. Working on the floor is the best excuse to get dressed up. It’s kind of like having a big dinner party every day: your friends come, their friends come, and their friends’ friends. You want to make sure you’re the hostess with the most-est and everyone is having a great time.
Where do you shop?
I like color, patterns, mixing and matching. I like volume. I shop anywhere and am open to everything, from designer to vintage to things I’ve had my whole life to Old Navy.
We’ve noticed that the staff at Jack’s Wife Freda all wear stripes.
Everyone wears their own horizontal sailor striped T-shirts. The day before the restaurant opened in 2012, Dean and I realized that we didn’t have uniforms. We had so many striped shirts at home, so we brought everything we had in our closet to the restaurant that morning. Some of the busboys ended up wearing my lavender striped T-shirts, and some of them still have theirs from that first day.
So cool. We also love the music there!
Our playlist is very personal and dear to us. The songs are from certain times in our lives, or just give us a feeling. We have lots of different soundtracks, including from movies our kids love, our wedding songs, our waiters’ bands, our waiters’ favorite songs, musicals we liked…
You have a very distinct hairstyle. How long have had it?
I have worn my hair like this for about 17 years, ever since I started going to this salon — V Beauty — in Chinatown (ask for Kenny!). After I moved from Israel to New York in the 90s, a co-worker took me there because they did $10 blow-drys, which I thought was awesome because everywhere else was like $50. I started getting my hair washed there once a week and getting Japanese straightening perms once every three months. They wash your hair, they massage you, they’re really chill. They do it perfectly using Japanese products and a ceramic flat iron. It’s my favorite place, it’s very under the radar, not very fancy. I feel super comfortable there.
That sounds like the vibe of your restaurants.
Yeah, exactly — people often stop by the restaurant without even wanting to eat. They just come in to tell us something that happened to them or ask for advice about a relationship crisis, and then end up getting a drink or a coffee or a juice.
What do you style your hair with when you do it yourself?
I’ll wash it with anything: Pantene, Herbal Essences, L’Occitane, Head & Shoulders… Then I straighten it with a ceramic flat iron that my salon special orders for me from Japan.
What was your hair like before you adopted your signature look?
I have naturally wavy hair, but I’ve always straightened it. Growing up in Israel, I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to blow dry my hair before school. I experimented with lots of different looks, though. I went from long hair to a shaved head, I did it all.
Wait. Tell us your shaved your head story.
I was 17 and I don’t think I put too much thought into it. It was one of those teenage things. My mom wouldn’t talk to me after, but my first boyfriend fell in love with me because of it.
Were you always adventurous with your style?
Yes, but as a teenager, it was hard. We lived in a suburban environment, and you were expected to look like everyone else. I had to rebel — and really brave it out — to be the way I wanted to be. I hope that I can raise my boys in an environment where it’s okay to be who they are.
What about when you moved back to New York?
When I was 20, I came to New York City for what was supposed to be a few months (I had a round-trip ticket), but I never went back. I fell in love with the city. After 17 years, I still get that feeling, like when you’re a tourist and your eyes are wide open. It gets hard sometimes and you need a break, but I very often feel the magic of the city. Not just with fashion, but with all the people, humanity, food, struggle. You know, it’s full of life.
What about makeup?
I’m not a big makeup person, although I always have a lipstick in my pocket. But when I put it on, my kids will laugh at me and tell me there is something on my mouth, or it gets all over everything, so I really only wear it when I want to look a little better. I’ll do a red lip for date nights and pictures. I love anything Chanel and lately I’ve been obsessed with Kjaer Weis lip tint. I also wear foundation, powder and lots of blush.
What’s your go-to blush?
I really love the look of a flushed cheek, so once a month I’ll buy a new blush just to see what’s out there. Right now I’m loving Nars Mata Hari, which is a really rosy pink.
Do you have tips for wearing makeup with glasses?
The only trick I have is using those little brown Japanese papers from MUJI to dry my skin on my nose under the glasses. I always carry them around, they’re like $2 a pack.
What’s your skincare routine?
Two extremely friendly ladies who worked at the La Mer counter at Bloomingdale’s started coming into the restaurant. They would give me samples and we became friends. Now I use a lot of La Mer products. I use the face wash every morning, as well as the serum and moisturizer. As for my nighttime routine, I need to get there. I usually pass out with my kids in their beds before I wash my face!
Do you ever do any beauty treatments?
My 5-year-old son Bennie loves pedicures — every time we walk by a pedicure place, he says “Oh, let’s get a pedicure.” So when my older son, Noam, is in Hebrew school, we’ll get them together at this place in Tribeca. All the ladies know him. He loves to get different colors. I never get polish, I just get the foot cleaning and the massages. If I get any polish, I’ll get clear.
Do you have a signature scent?
A friend of ours, Winnie Beattie, has a store on Mott Street called Warm. She is the sweetest lady — she has little boys, too. Their fragrance that smells like summer. She smells like that, the store smells like that, and I’m happy I can smell like that sometimes, too.
Do you have any other rituals that make you feel good?
My husband and I try to go to Yoga Shanti a few times a week — it helps us find that peace within the chaos of the city. I also go to a rolfing specialist regularly as I have developed chronic feet pain from all the years working on my feet.
How does food play a role in your beauty philosophy?
I love eating and I’m not the healthiest eater, but I’m trying to become more aware of what I put in my body. As I get older, I’m trying more and more to stick to what makes me feel good. We try to leave bread and French fries for special treat days. We don’t necessarily do that all the time, though.
Well, your french fries are amazing.
Thank you, Maya!