It’s Kind of a Funny Story: Dean & Maya of Jack’s Wife Freda
In this edition, we profile the owners of one of our favorite New York restaurants. They also happen to be one of our favorite couples.
MR: So how did you guys meet?
[Song plays over the restaurant’s loud speaker]
Dean: This is our wedding song.
Maya: This is our wedding song!
MR: What’s your wedding song?
Dean: It’s the song from Closer.
MR (Amelia): I love this song, it’s “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice which is the cutest song ever.
MR (Leandra): You know what my song is? “Forever on the Dance Floor” by Chris Brown.
MR: So, how did you meet?
Dean: We met at Balthazar — Maya was working there. I loved her when I saw her.
MR: Were you also working there Maya?
Maya: Yes —
Dean: She was the Maître D and I was a breakfast waiter –
Maya: And a dishwasher!
MR: So you asked her on a date?
Dean: No, at the time I had a girlfriend…
Maya: And I had a boyfriend!
MR: You cheaters!
Dean: We didn’t cheat.
Maya: No –
Dean: We used to talk and talk –
Maya: And smoke cigarettes on Crosby Street.
Dean: And then on 4th of July ten years ago, eleven years ago, it was very quiet at Balthazar and we really hung out –
MR: You really hung out? With a capital H?
Maya: No, he just walked me home and then we text messaged for like two or three days.
Dean: This was in the days before text messages when you had to do it with the numbers.
MR: It was expensive! Like two dollars a message!
Maya: And you had to go through the numbers three times to get the letter.
Dean: I went back to my apartment after dropping Maya off at home, and I stayed awake the whole night texting her. In the morning I told her to meet me at Tompkins Square Park and we played hide-and-seek.
Maya: He was like, “If you hear something…an out-of-tune whistle, that’s a Hari Krishna whistle, then you know we’re close.”
Dean: It was on a hill in Tompkins Square –
Maya: Next to all the drunks.
Dean: And then I was like “Maya, I left my girlfriend!”
Maya: But we didn’t talk about it. We never talked about it.
Dean: We went down to Battery Park City and I stayed over. Maya went to Israel like a week later, and I stayed in her apartment…
Maya: He stayed in my apartment and he never left. The first time he came over, he never left. He just went back after a month to get his passport. He never left. I had a girlfriend who said, “Don’t call him the next day,” but he called the next day when he finished work and said, “I’m coming back.” And he came back and never left. Really!
MR: What do you love about her?
Maya: Do you still love everything?
Dean: Yes, I’m sure!
MR: Were you in love from the second you saw her?
Dean: Pretty much. I used to say I’d keep three feet away from her so we wouldn’t be too close.
Maya: He used to behave very strange. For a month we knew each other from work, but we never really spoke, and he would come by the podium and pretend he was Jackson Pollock, because the movie had just come out – and I had a Russian friend who was like, “He’s weird. Don’t talk to him.” He’d just come up and be weird.
MR: So really, Dean, what did you love about her?
MR: But what did you love when you met her?
Dean: There was an exchange of energy that was very fun. It was a lot of fun to be around her, very warm and very difficult at the same time. We just exchanged a very good energy and really fell in love with each other.
Maya: It took me a week, and I still remember that I had those fears that a lot of girls had – it took me time to not be scared.
Dean: It took me one moment.
Maya: I thought I was going to meet an Israeli guy.
Dean: She told me, “I thought I was going to marry an Israeli guy.”
Maya: And then we looked into each other’s eyes and we had this moment where we felt like we knew each other forever.
Dean: That’s how we felt.
Maya: You used to tell people we met in the desert.
Dean: That’s a very good connection. Like, our souls had been together a long time.
Maya: There was a time I didn’t recognize you in this South African body. I thought they were going to put you in an Israeli body. Like, I recognized him inside.
MR: Do you have any specific memories from the beginning of the relationship, like that moment when you said, “I’m so lucky this is going to be the rest of my life.”
Dean: Yeah, I was living on 13th street between A and B, and we used to lie in the bath for lots of hours, and it was this very tiny room with yellow walls. We saw the movie In America by Jim Sheridan…our lives were very In America. We came from nothing. I had to carry the air conditioner in the street.
MR: You were living the American dream!
Dean: We were living like we believed.
Maya: We believed in each other. We gave each other faith. We didn’t come from backgrounds that had faith, and we gave each other faith that, even though it’s hard — we had a lot of hard years in the city — we never felt unlucky. We felt like we could do more.
Dean: On our first date, remember that’s when we actually fell in love, we ate schwarma. It was messy and falling over everything.
Maya: We always ate with our hands.
MR: How long were you married before you opened Jack’s Wife Freda?
Dean: We’ll be married for nine years now, May 31st. If you can help us get a reservation at Daniel, that would be fantastic.
MR: And Jack’s is two years old?
Dean: Two and a half.
MR: When did you guys decide to do that?
Maya: When the baby came, we realized we needed to do more. Until then we were living the city life.
Dean: But also, we’d eat out all the time and we didn’t really like it. We still really don’t like to eat anywhere.
MR: The thing about Jack’s is that it doesn’t feel like you’re eating out. It feels like you’re in your living room.
Dean: That’s how we wanted it to feel.
Maya: We had three or four places where we felt like that. Every time we tried to go out to a new place, because we worked so many hours in a restaurant, we knew in our minds how it was supposed to be.
Dean: But it wasn’t just the food or the drinks that we both loved…we liked hanging out. We liked sitting somewhere for as long as we wanted and just doing whatever.
MR: How do you guys work together every day, then go home and live together?
Dean: I don’t know. We’ve also worked in restaurants for so long it just becomes your lifestyle. You know the other person’s working late at night, or early in the morning, or around other people. Also we’ve been together long enough that I think we’re comfortable enough being ourselves. I don’t think we try…a lot of people with other careers try to be somebody else at home, at work, with friends. I think we’re the same all the time.
MR: So when you’re here, you’re bosses, and at home, you’re parents.
Dean: Well Maya’s still very bossy at home.
Maya: He’s more bossy at the restaurant. But I think we just work the same. Sometimes I’ll tell the waiter to do something and he’ll say, “Dean said the opposite,” but that’s what happens when you work with a married couple. In the big picture, we’re the same and we come from the same school of thought.
Dean: When people say to me, “Maya said this to me,” I say, “Exactly, do it like I said.”
Maya: But we still like going home and talking about everything that happened with the restaurant and the staff. And I wish we could take the new managers home with us, because I think that’s why it runs well: we’re so aware and in tune of what’s going on every day.
Dean: I think also, a lot of our love is the love for the city…each other, our family. All of it is the same type of relationship and the same type of love.
MR: Yeah, that’s part of the relationship. That’s an important factor.
MR: What advice do you have for couples and for people looking?
Dean: People looking — I feel terribly sorry for them. I think the singles market is disgusting.
Maya: He’s a little more pessimistic.
Dean: It’s very challenging to be on your own all the time. When you’re a couple, you feel like someone else is caring for you. It helps you feel like you’re making the right decisions in your life, or being guided in your life…there’s someone who’s got your back all the time.
Maya: But then you also learn to be a little less narcissistic because there’s another person, and then you use that in life: it’s not always about me. It’s easy to be selfish and aware of “me me me,” but once there’s another person…I think humanity needs that in general.
Dean: And acceptance. Understanding. All those buzz words.
Maya: Well that’s what love is, just not being selfish…
Dean: And not being deranged by love. Love is something that grows and changes.
MR: There’s a difference between longing and loving. Often, longing can convince you that you’re in love.
Dean: Well I think it takes a lot of maturity to know what’s going on around you.
Maya: If you’re single, and you don’t have love…those people feel a little pessimistic, lose their faith…I had a really bad relationship beforehand. But if you still believe in all those good things, and you know that he’s out there looking for you, just like you’re looking for him, when times are right, times are right. You have to be patient. You can’t force things to come in life.
Dean: And jewelry.
Maya: And jewelry! Patience is a virtue.
MR: Dean, you fell in love right away, but Maya, you said it took you a bit longer.
Maya: Just a few days. It would have taken longer – but he was very honest. I had girlfriends prepping me, saying “play the game, don’t call, don’t see him the day after.” I thought I had to go there because of this series of bad relationships before. But he wouldn’t let me do that because he was honest and sincere.
Dean: And I had nowhere to go.
Maya: He was very clumsy when we met, so he had me watch all the Peter Sellers movies!
Dean: The Party…
Maya: And Basquiat.
Dean: I think our movie is Basquiat.
Maya: You have to give it everything for something to work. Really, you have to be 100% yourself, even if you feel a little lost. I didn’t know who I was, but he made me feel like it’s okay.
Dean: And you need a good sense of humor.
MR (Leandra): I tell my friends that you know it’s right when it’s easy. It’s not supposed to be hard.
Dean: It gets hard after…the outside is hard because you have your families then, when other people get involved.
MR (Leandra): But the relationship is never about game playing.
Maya: If it’s a game then it’s not right, but it is work. It’s about having someone else, and when you have children, it’s more work. Everything is about work.
Dean: Highly recommend having kids.
MR: Dean, what do you think about Maya’s style?
Dean: Maya’s style is incredible.
Maya: He used to really love my style when I had less money and had to put it together.
Dean: It was more hip. She used to wear these dresses that are still my favorite.
Maya: Remember those Comme des Garçons pants I used to wear? They were like Mary had a Little Lamb meets Marie Antoinette.
Dean: They’re beautiful.
Maya: I used to be more creative — I’d wear a blazer inside out and put big pants under it or a big skirt.
Dean: She would make one thing stretch a long way. I’ve always liked clothes also, I mean, not obsessively but I like…
Maya: He discovered Double RL so he looks a little more neat now.
MR: So you like fashion, you’re interested in it.
Dean: Well I like clothes.
Maya: We used to shop together on our days off.
Dean: I don’t enjoy going into the store, but I like clothes.
MR: Does he frequently comment on your style?
Maya: Not anymore, because I’ve started to shop a lot this past year…
Dean: I do comment! I say, “How much did that cost?”
Maya: He doesn’t ask me. He’ll ask me sometimes, but he doesn’t want to know.
MR: If you could give relationship advice to your two sons, what would it be?
Dean: Just trust yourself.
MR: You must trust your kids a lot then.
Dean: Trust yourself and let your inner being come alive. You’ve got to believe.
Maya: When he says “trust yourself,” I know what he means. You need people to inspire you. When I met him, I had bad relationships, but I had two girlfriends who had beautiful, loving relationships with their husbands, and I said, “I want that. That’s love. If they have it, it means it exist.”
And even though some friends got divorced, I didn’t lose faith. You have to have faith in yourself, and the big picture, and have patience. When he says, “trust yourself,” he means have faith in yourself. I’m worried about the kids growing up and what I’ll teach them, but you’ve just got to love them. And I understand now, after all these years have gone by, that he’s right. We all need love, but we have to give love, too.
Dean: You have to believe.
Maya: You have to believe.