It’s half past noon on a brisk Monday in February, and while the new week is struggling to gain steam, one corner of the university compound is buzzing with activity. At Perfectly Frank in the ODU Village, hungry customers pour through the door in ever-increasing numbers, each followed by a short burst of cold air.
“Grab a seat guys, anywhere you like,” shouts a junior accounting major, pen in hand. Glancing back at her ticket pad, she continues writing a lunch order for table nine with fevered focus. A coworker glides briskly behind her, expertly sandwiching five cups of soda between her two hands.
Assorted stickers cover a giant metal exhaust hood that hangs from the ceiling, creating a collage-like mural that dizzies with its variety: Rodanthe Surf Shop, Breckenridge Colorado, Slightly Stoopid, Relax. You could spend a couple of hours identifying familiar stickers, and some people do. It’s not discouraged.
Behind the counter, and in front of the grill, stands the captain of the team. Tarah Morris scans the endless file of tickets before her, contemplating her next move. Her gaze shifts from the row of tickets and the food sizzling away on the grill, to an older couple waiting patiently at the register.
“Reggie!” she yells. The whole operation is only a few mistakes away from coming off the rails, a couple missteps away from utter chaos. But Tarah’s got this. She’s done it thousands of times, literally. In fact, today’s not even that busy by her standards. She’s seen way worse.
Earlier in the morning, before “the rush,” I had a chance to sit down with Tarah, and get the scoop on how she ended up being the owner of ODU’s de facto comfort food capital.
“I know this business pretty well,” she tells me. “I started working at a similar restaurant, Famous Uncle Al’s on Shore Drive, when I was fourteen years-old. I worked there all through high school and beyond.”
In addition to giving Tarah a place to work, restaurateur Al Stein served as a mentor. He taught her the restaurant biz, while she figured out what she wanted to do with her life. After a couple of semesters here at ODU, Tarah decided that what made the most sense was for her to leave school for good, and purchase a restaurant franchise of her own.
“I opened Famous Uncle Al’s in Greenbrier, when I was twenty one,” she says. “I was young, but I had plenty of experience and lots of energy. It became a huge success. A few years later I saw an opportunity for growth in the newly developed ODU Village. I continued to run Al’s in Chesapeake, while trying to create the same success with Perfectly Frank in Norfolk. The new location was given a different name but the two restaurants are very similar.”
Perfectly Frank was no overnight success, but with time and a lot of hard work it grew. People started showing up, and more importantly, they started coming back, often.
“My goal is pretty simple,” she says plainly. “I try to give people food that tastes good, comes to your table quickly, and is reasonably priced. We’re not a fine dining establishment, nor do we want to be. What I love about this place is the variety of people who come in. We have students, faculty, professionals, high school kids etc., anyone you can imagine. It’s a mixed bag, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it a cool place.”
When the lunch rush slows down, Tarah can often be seen laughing it up with one of the many regulars, who understand that “PFranks’s” is about much more than food. The seats at Tarah’s end of the lunch counter are highly coveted.
The atmosphere and the vibe at Perfectly Frank can’t be summed up in a magazine article. It’s a one-of-a-kind type of place, unique at ODU. My advice is to stop in for a bite to eat the next time you’re in the Village. Grab a seat at the counter. Keep your phone in your pocket and order yourself a Natty Light. Then, let Tarah hook you up with a Boar’s Head hot dog “all the way.” Chances are she might just make you laugh, and you might just make a few new friends.
Perfectly Frank ODU is located at 4408 Monarch Way. For more, here is their Facebook page.