Cultivate a Passion for Pastries at Frankie Portugal | chelseanow.com

Cultivate a Passion for Pastries at Frankie Portugal

Pastéis De Nata — a custard tart, which is served warm — is a popular draw at Frankie Portugal, and via Joey Batista’s summer street fair appearances. | Photo by Paulo Miguel Salud

BY PAULA ROSENBERG | Joey Batista is modest about his role in co-founding Frankie Portugal, one of Chelsea’s most unique cafes. “I’m not the baker,” he noted, “and I am not the genius behind the food. I’m simply the passionate one.”

Batista is from Ludlow Massachusetts, a town in the Berkshires with a predominantly Portuguese-American demographic. He grew up speaking Portuguese before learning English. “I’m really proud of my family’s background and heritage,” he said.

Since New York prides itself on being a city of international foodies, Batista was surprised at the lack of Portuguese food options when he first arrived here five years ago to work in IT and sales. “As cliché as it sounds, New York is an extremely inspiring city,” noted the East Village resident. He witnessed many of his friends and colleagues taking on side hustles around their passions, which lead him to wonder if there was a market for the dishes he grew up loving.

Under his brand name, Joey Bats Sweets (since renamed Joey Bats Café), Batista tested his passion project last summer by selling pastries at events like San Gennaro Festival, Monday Movie Nights at Bryant Park, and Queens Night Market. He did well — but winter was coming and he didn’t have a place to sell his products. He tried an outpost at Broadway Market in Soho, but found that venue, primarily a clothing market, wasn’t as good for his business as he expected. He knew that the 114 10th Ave. location of Artichoke Basille’s Pizza had space around the corner, on W. 17th St., that they weren’t using — so he reached out to the owners.

“As it turns out,” Batista recalled, “one of the owners, Francis Garcia, is part Portuguese.” Garcia’s father was half Italian and half Portuguese and, since he grew up in a predominately Italian neighborhood in Staten Island, his neighbors referred to him as “Frankie Portugal.” So when Batista approached Artichoke about the space, Garcia mentioned that he had been wanting to put a coffee shop there. Since he was familiar with Batista’s pastries he suggested they open something together. That was in October — and by mid-December, the doors to Frankie Portugal were open.

When it comes to running a business, Batista draws on the strength of excellent role models. Back in Ludlow, Batista’s father has owned JB Meats, a butcher shops, since 1987 (having taken it over from his father-in-law, who established the business in 1976)  — and his uncles recently opened a restaurant that was inspired by the cooking Batista’s mother, Isabel Fernandes, does for the family on Sundays. Batista described what his family dinners are like: “We always eat together. We’d bring friends over and before you know it there would be 15 to 20 people. It was like Thanksgiving every day of the week.” His uncles named the restaurant Come e Cala-te, which translates into “Shut Up and Eat.” Isabel seems to be the family muse, and with good reason. Her desserts are incredible.

Frankie Portugal’s menu has offerings that are unique, even by Chelsea standards. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

“Everything in here is Portuguese,” said Batista, during a tour of the cafe. “We’re the only place in New York City with this coffee brand, Delta, which is the most popular there,” Batista said with pride. Delta coffee is giving him a model of one of their machines that takes capsules, so he’ll be able to offer beverages at the street fairs and festivals at which he sells his pastries.

The baked goods at Frankie Portugal include the most popular dessert in Lisbon, Pastéis De Nata — a custard tart, which is served warm. In addition to desserts, the cafe sells traditional rolls, Papo Secos, and pâté spreads. “I always try to keep it authentic as I can,” Batista said. He also noted that they are continuously adding new items to the menu and testing out which ones go over well with patrons.

The dishes seem to be a big hit. Batista said he wouldn’t be surprised if they open more Frankie Portugal locations soon (he no longer manages the store, but supplies their pastries). These days, Batista is commuting between Manhattan and Ludlow, where he’s in the construction stage of his own cafe, Joey Bats. The hometown flagship location will be used to test out the concept before opening one in Manhattan by the end of the year. He also plans on participating in as many of NYC’s summertime street fairs and festivals as possible. “Those are great for brand exposure as well as trying out new items. I like to keep things exciting.” he said.

Frankie Portugal is located at 457 W. 17th St., at 10th Ave. Open daily, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Visit frankieportugalcoffee.com, joeybatscafe.com, and artichokepizza.com.

Frankie Portugal on W. 17th St., with sister space Artichoke Basille’s Pizza visible on the corner of 10th Ave. | Photo by Scott Stiffler