Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Danette Stuckey of Frasca Food and Wine has the ability to change the mood of a room, in the best of ways. Being in her presence at the restaurant she owns with her husband, Bobby Stuckey, and their partner, chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, is a treat. You feel excited, taken care of, and so loved. The Boulder fine-dining spot is Danette Stuckey's first foray into the restaurant world. After a long career in the fashion realm, she helped open Frasca in the summer of 2004, where she has worked the floor as hostess from day one. Today, you will still find her poised at the front when you walk in the door, the very essence of hospitality.
Next week, Frasca celebrates 10 years of service. Much has changed in that time period—the staff has grown from 12 to 100 employees, and the music, though still quiet has changed; conservative opera has evolved to more rock 'n' roll. The bar has gone from wood to marble, the pasta program, which was raved about from day one, is even more refined now. In the last year, tables were taken out to give guests a more comfortable and personal experience. There's a private dining room. There's a pizzeria. Much has changed, and yet so much it is the same place. Danette talked to Eater about how she pulls it off, who she misses the most, and why you want to have a community that is into dining.
Describe your role at Frasca? I still hostess. I call myself the "smoother outer." I can sense if someone is uncomfortable. Maybe it's their first time here, or sometimes people are exhausted from a long day at work, or sometimes they just didn't want to eat that late. There's different reasons when people come in the door and usually I am in the front and I can sense when something is off. I like to converse with people and try to feel it out, and then try to just change their night. I just want people to leave here 10 times happier than when they came in.
Has your view on restaurants changed since you started working at Frasca? So much. I have this thing now that I always tell people, if everyone in the world A: traveled and B: worked in a restaurant, it would be a lot nicer place to live. I think there would be a lot more compassion in the world. Working in a restaurant is humbling, it's challenging, it's thrilling, it's rewarding, it's everything, but most of all you learn humanity. I really enjoy seeing service in a fine-dining environment. We recently dined at Eleven Madison Park and we were so touched by the elegance and warmth; great service is a true art form that we so appreciate.
You have this ability to make people feel amazing and loved when they are in your restaurant. How do you do it? I try to be present. I have to listen to some nice music on the way to work, something that psyches me up—either Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, or Journey. I always like to wear a necklace. My jewelry is like my armor, to protect and to put out good energy. I have to consciously realize to myself: Don't take anything personally. We all have family issues, we all have work that's hard, we're all trying to plan our futures, we all have aches and pains, no matter what, we all have it. We're all human. So when I come here I try to realize all that. It helps with service, it helps with relating to people.
Do you have any advice for the shy folks in the industry to connect with guests? I'm shy. It's taken me a lot of time. In the beginning, I would go in the back and cry. It was so scary and so hard. If someone spoke brash I would just take it so hard. You try to make it a great experience, and it hurts your feelings, and you take it personally. Then, I was like, 'Wait a minute, this is my place and I know how hard we all work here and I see from 4:30 a.m. when the baker comes to 2 a.m. when we close the doors what goes into this place, and I have to represent that.' I have to be the essence of that because that baker is working his butt off and that girl in the office is working her butt off. I can't just show up and be like, I'm not in the mood tonight. We are part of a team and we all have to be on board together. It's hard. You have to click something in your mind.
You own Frasca and everyone in town knows you and Bobby. What is it like to not have any anonymity when you go out? It is a very small town and you do know everyone. Because you're a face of the place, everyone knows you for sure. It's a lot easier for me now. In the beginning it was incredibly hard because I had always lived in cities where you are quite anonymous. For me to sit down everywhere we would go to eat and end up chatting with everyone else except Bobby, sometimes it gets a little difficult. I've learned to really be okay with it because I understand. If I run into somebody I'm not just going to ignore them, I'll say hello. When we travel, it's good to get away and have some alone time with Bobby.
What employee has taught you the most? Bobby taught me everything because I knew nothing. Coming from modeling, it was a very dog-eat-dog world, it was very competitive, and so if you were a really strong person, you'd really go far. I think I had inner strength but I didn't have outer strength. Bobby really taught me that skill of being in a restaurant. He was like, 'It's not a competition Danette, we're all friends, we work together.' Bobby would say, 'We won't have a table available for another hour, maybe Mateo down the street has some availability, let me call them for you.' I was like, I don't understand that, and now I get it. You want a community who is into dining, you want to support each other, you want to be friends with everyone. I love that Bobby taught me that and I think it's what has brought such grace to the dining room. The other person is Rose Votta. Rose has a way with people. She doesn't miss a beat. When she talks to people, she'll say something really dry and serious and make it funny. She has this quality of addressing people. I've learned a lot from listening to her. She makes people giggle inside. But she's tough, she's a killer server, she knows her stuff. We have a great, long history with her. She worked with Bobby in Aspen and she moved down here to open Frasca with us.
There have been a lot of great people who have worked at Frasca over the years. Who do you miss the most? Paige Harte. I love that woman. She had the calmest…you'd come near her and you could breathe. She's at Charlie Bird now in New York with Grant Reynolds. I miss Grant also. There's been so many. Brian Lockwood who was our chef. Diego Baud too. I love Diego, he had this infectious energy. He would tell customers that he was Bobby and my son. He'd be like, 'I get the best tips.'
In the past year what has been your favorite night of service here? Something really, really special was La Subida from Friuli did a dinner with us. We go to their place all the time, it's like our home away from home when we are in Italy. They are the most gracious people. We were so nervous because it meant so much to us to have them here. They've inspired our restaurant so much. It was a fun night.
If you could have a glass of wine right now, what would it be? I love Chablis. What did we have last night that was so amazing...Ravenaeu. My second choice would be Nebbiolo.
Have you ever not felt so great when you walked into a restaurant and then left feeling better? Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes just on a Sunday for brunch at The Kitchen or Mateo because I'm not such a good morning person. I'll go in and the manager Matthew Kenny at The Kitchen is so sweet, and all of a sudden you're like, 'What's my problem?' Honestly, this runs through my mind a lot, how lucky am I that I get to go to a restaurant? Not everyone gets to do that. When people come in here and aren't kind to the staff, sometimes I just think to myself, how lucky are you to be dining? So many people want to come here. We have to appreciate those things. But little smiles or just a warm touch and all of a sudden you're melted.