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Thomas and Janelle met in Talkeetna, Alaska. “We have both been industry people for a long time,” says Janelle, “despite our parents’ best efforts.” Janelle was already established at the hotel where they worked when Thomas moved from New Orleans after twelve years of running restaurants in the French Quarter. He was working in the kitchen and she was the event manager. “I was the person that would hang the 50 banquet event orders and Thomas was the one to catch them,” Janelle says. “And that’s how we got to know one another. We’ve always worked together. We’ve always worked at a similar pace. And we just have the same way of going about doing things.”
Fast forward a few years and Janelle was ready to leave her position at the hotel and Thomas was cooking for a crew on a gold mine. With their winters off, a friend suggested they visit McCall, particularly to see if the food and beverage program at Brundage would be a good fit. “It was an exciting time at Brundage with the food venues changing and the menus getting reworked,” says Janelle. They were swiftly hired on, Thomas as the Chef and Janelle at the resort, eventually moving into the F&B director role. They would stay with Brundage for four years before getting the bug to open their own restaurant.
“There is a difference between a seasonal life here and finding a full-time life here,” says Janelle. So they set about building that full-time life. Both transitioned out of Brundage to run the original Alpine Pantry. The fit wasn’t quite right, so Janelle went to work for Sysco Foods as a marketing associate while Thomas moved to Shore Lodge. “Thomas had already been on the numbers side of a restaurant,” says Janelle, “but for me, Sysco was where I learned all of the missing pieces.”
As they began to plan what a restaurant of their own might look like, a commercial space in McCall opened up. The building had previously been home to many different ventures, but when the pair initially moved to McCall it was Paradise Burger – the first place they ever ate in town. “We have always loved that it was a house,” says Janelle, “it is very New Orleans.” And so, they took a chance.
“We looked at each other,” says Janelle, “and we decided the worst-case scenario would be that we live in my mom’s basement. But she is super generous and she’s got a great basement and she’s a good cook.” So, armed with 50-plus drafts of a menu and a dream, Frenchies on Third was born.
Photo Credit Jon Conti
The restaurant pays homage to Thomas’ time in the French Quarter and a love of genuine Southern food. “The joke now is that we are always spending too much time going back to New Orleans to eat,” laughs Janelle. But the trips are worth it. The menu at Frenchies is decidedly southern and welcoming – as is the name. “Sometimes I wish the name was a bit more romantic,” says Janelle, “but I really like the idea of a granny name for a restaurant. It just feels comforting, especially in an old house.”
And five years later, Frenchies has been built into a community staple, as has Thomas and Janelle’s creativity in the kitchen. “We truly just wanted it to be a little po boy place with some gumbo and chowder,” says Janelle. But Frenchies has superseded the initial scope. One of the most sought-after social posts of the week is the Blue Plate Specials. “We initially started it to just keep us creative,” says Janelle. “And then it really became something people looked forward to.” While designing five unique specials each week for five years can feel a little daunting at times, both Janelle and Thomas agree that it has helped them stay community-centered as well.
And it has always been that sense of community that keeps them going. “We love what we do,” says Janelle, “This is somehow in our blood. But I don’t think that this place was ever so much about us as much as who comes through the door. I don’t think we would have made it five months, let alone five years, if it weren’t for this community.”
They are also appreciative of the local culinary scene. “Everyone is adapting,” says Janelle. “There have been some pretty hefty challenges in the last few years and I think people are staying creative and not letting anything set them back.” She and Thomas are excited to be a part of a community able to think outside of the box and continue to come up with new, exciting ideas. Perhaps it is a throwback to their days in “The Last Frontier” state, or maybe it is simply an exceptional work ethic. Either way, we are excited to see what new trails the Toohey/Smith’s blaze as they marry the flavors of the South with the Wild West.
Thomas: The kids’ cheeseburger if I have time.
Janelle: I’m still a shrimp po boy girl – I try to eat at least one a week.
Heavy Cream. I always get nervous when a dish isn’t creamy. In the winter we go through about 20 gallons a week.
Thomas will still lean towards quite a bit of his Long Island background and make pastas and chicken parmesan and I’ll make meatballs – that’s the way I show I love him.
Thomas: I’ve been cooking French toast since I was probably about five. Janelle also adds: I remember a winter where you started making the craziest egg Benedicts I’ve ever seen. We were working with a television show in Alaska and the hotel only had 25 guests in it at the time. And you just started making these specials and bringing them to me every day and I watched something switch in you at that point.
Janelle: I don’t remember the first thing I cooked, but I do remember the first time somebody told me that they were making a potato salad my whole brain rearranged. I just thought it came from the deli!