Eighty Years of Frankie and Johnny’s

Celebrating the history and legacy of a beloved New Orleans neighborhood restaurant.

On a humid spring day about a year ago, I sat on the porch of Frankie and Johnny’s restaurant with my mom and grandma at a small table with a red and white checkered tablecloth, a roll of paper towels and a caddy with Crystal and Tabasco hot sauces. The smell of boiled crawfish and the shouts of the cooks wafted out of the kitchen, which was separated from the porch by a screen. 

 A woman burst out of the front door to take our order. She wore a gold sequined jacket and her nails were painted Mardi Gras colors. We chatted for a few minutes. She called herself ‘grandma,’ asked if I wanted a job, and hired me on the spot.  

  The woman’s name is Terrie Tourres. She has been working at Frankie and Johnny’s for over half of the restaurant’s eighty years. Like Tourres, several of the restaurant’s employees have been working there for decades; some customers have been eating there for even longer. At Frankie and Johnny’s, the saying ‘the people make the place’ rings true more than ever. 

 In 2022, Frankie and Johnny’s celebrated eighty years of serving po’boys, seafood, red beans and beer. It is a true family restaurant and a New Orleans institution. 

Frankie and Johnny’s opened in 1942 on the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Arabella. For a decade before, it had existed as The Sundowner, run by the Adoff family. The restaurant was placed in the hands of the two daughters, Eloice and Audrey, who’s husbands, Frank Gaudin and John Morreale, took it over. It became Frankie and Johnny’s. Tucked away in a riverside uptown neighborhood, the restaurant was frequented by seamen and dock workers who would come in off the wharf for lunch. 

Eventually, Morreale assumed full ownership and continued to run Frankie and Johnny’s with his wife Audrey. They lived in an apartment above the restaurant. The restaurant was later passed to his son, John Morreale Jr., and it has stayed in the family to this day. 

Dionne Morreale, the daughter of John Morreale Jr,  has worked at her grandparents’ place for her whole life. “They raised my dad right there,” says Dionne. “He never left the place.” Dionne met her husband working at Frankie and Johnny’s when they were eight and twelve years old; he worked as a delivery boy, biking all around the neighborhood delivering food. Like this one, the stories I have heard during my time working at Frankie and Johnny’s have shown me how this family restaurant came to be so important to the community of Uptown New Orleans; it brings people together. 

In a booth in Frankie and Johnny’s in 1961, Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Club was conceptualized. Headed by Pete Fountain, New Orleanian jazz clarinetist, the walking krewe began marching on foot each year on Mardi Gras morning. And every year on New Year’s Day, John Morreale would cook a feast and feed his customers for free.

Mark Kline, who has worked behind the bar of Frankie and Johnny’s since the early nineties, recalls that the restaurant has hosted wedding receptions for people who had met there. Some people have been dining at Frankie and Johnny’s since they were kids, and now bring their own. There are regulars who are in their seventies and have been eating there for practically their whole lives. I once served a couple who were in town for a Tulane reunion. They told me they had had their first date at Frankie and Johnny’s over forty years ago. Locals, transplants, college students and alumni– people of all kinds have adopted Frankie and Johnny’s as their own.

 “It’s got that New Orleans neighborhood feel, like they say” says Kline. “You stay around here long enough, you know everybody.”

Though the Morreale family still owns the property, the restaurant has seen a series of different owners over the decades. In 2014, ownership was transferred to David McCelvey.  

“In a food city like New Orleans teeming with new restaurants, Frankie and Johnny’s stands frozen in time,”  says McCelvey. The uptown neighborhoods used to have family-run restaurants and bars like Frankie and Johnny’s on almost every corner. Over the years, while most of the others have disappeared, Frankie and Johnny’s has stayed standing. It is important to McCelvey to keep the old-fashioned charm of the restaurant alive. “New Orleanians love their traditions, and Frankie and Johnny’s is one of them.” 

During Mardi Gras season, the restaurant and bar is packed with parade goers and krewes. Each year on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, the restaurant and bar open early for the Krewe of Thoth. I worked Thoth Sunday this year, and after the krewe members got their fill of po’boys and beer, the floats lined up right on Tchoupitoulas and all of the restaurant’s staff ran to the edge of the street to catch beads. A few weeks ago, a second line and brass band came parading through the dining room. Everyone got up to dance. 

For eighty years, Frankie and Johnny’s has weathered storms and stood the test of time. Its walls are crammed with decades of photos, and its history is ingrained into the very woodwork. There is something undeniably special about the place. To the Morreales, the longtime employees, the regulars and everyone else who feels a connection to it — Frankie and Johnny’s feels like home.