A few months ago I had the opportunity to meet Frank Way upon stopping in for a bite at his wonderful new cafe located on Main Street in Kent, CT, aptly named: frank. Asking questions as is my usual mode, I learned that Frank has been a branding and marketing creative director with over 30 years of experience working for notable brands such as Calvin Klein, Limited Brands, Martha Stewart and Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm. He was born in Orlando, Florida and raised in an upper middle class, white suburban neighborhood. From an early age Frank demonstrated artistic abilities, most likely, he presumes, inherited from his mother’s side of the family. Always an inquisitive person, Frank’s urban cravings led him to Pratt Institute where he graduated with a degree in graphic design and advertising in 1985. Today he owns a small independent food shop called frank.food company in northwest Connecticut.
What is your background?
I was raised in the south in a very traditional family yet always felt like an alien. Not necessarily misunderstood, rather I felt as if I was always observing from the outside. I think that sense of alienation has fed my curiosity in others and my desire to learn. When someone says to me that they are an “old soul,” I’ve never really comprehended the meaning because everything feels new to me. If anything, I typically respond by saying this is definitely my first time here. That perspective is what connects me to others. It keeps every day fresh and exciting… because it always feels new to me.
What inspires you to create?
This question is especially interesting to me because what drives me creatively today is radically different than ever before and I feel like I’m just now coming into my own. Historically, I have been a master assimilator. I observed and reported my experiences and interpretation of the world around me through the visual and verbal arts. I relied on those skills to drive my career, and as my technical skills improved and my verbal abilities developed, I advanced professionally. Ultimately, I became an executive creative director within the world’s largest PR firm. I was proud of my accomplishment and proud of the work I created. This drive to create came from a specific need – to provide financial stability. To create became a very responsible act. Now I am in my mid-50s and my drive and motivations are very different. The past was a reactive relationship to creative, but today I am much more present in my creative efforts. More in the moment. Being in the moment has shifted my reliance on others’ approval and has given me the permission I needed to fulfill the desires of my heart. Being in the second half of my life, I am less concerned what others think and focus more on how it “feels” for me. Today I am much more authentic in my body, my profession and my life.
How has your career influenced your passions (or vice versa)?
Professionally the word creative was always in my title and became a part of my identity. I was an “art” director, a “creative” producer, a graphic “designer”, a “creative” director. Ironically, that desire for a creative reference in my career became debilitating because I wasn’t able to see beyond the title. Being “creative” became the driver rather than the pursuit of fulfilling my passions. My biggest professional regret was that I didn’t become a teacher because I was too attached to my salary. I often wonder what my life would look like had I followed my heart into the education sector because nothing brings me greater joy than being with children. I do not mean to negate the tremendous value of my career, but in my heart, I know that I compromised and will wonder what my life would look like today had I made a different choice.
I recently left the corporate world to pursue something completely unknown to me. I became a shop keeper in a small town in northwest Connecticut. Having never owned a store before my closest experience was as the creative director for a chain of 700 clothing stores. Believe me, there is very little in common. Being a shopkeeper is the largest risk I have ever made and has been the most fulfilling.
I also just got married. Never in my wildest imagination did I imagine that happening. Being a child of the 70s and gay, getting married wasn’t a choice. As a result, I had closed my heart to that possibility. But in the midst of all this tremendous change in my life (leaving the city for a rural life, adopting a rescue dog, creating a new business) something else miraculous happened. I met and fell in love with a wonderful man who also recently left his urban life for rural Connecticut. I see all these things as the Universe conspiring FOR me. It’s hard to identify what specifically shifted, or if it was simply little choices that added up to something bigger, but today my life is far more passionate than ever. My profession is a result of being myself. I am in charge rather than letting my profession drive me.
What is something that you must do every day (by choice)?
I have a dear friend that I speak with every morning at 6:30 and we express our thanks to something bigger than ourselves (God? Spirit? Source Energy?) In a word, we pray. This is the most powerful practice I have ever pursued because it allows me to consciously stop and readjust. I find that when I wake up my mind is already ten steps ahead racing through the list of all I must accomplish, create, do, and fulfill for that day. Pausing for just 5 or 10 minutes every morning allows me to release all those noisy and distracting thoughts and remember that we, collectively, are all connected by this idea of Love. I see Source Energy as Love and I am made of that Love. Therefore, I am Love. And if that applies to me then it applies to absolutely every human being. That means I see everyone as Love – the same as me. Removing all of our characteristics that defines us separate, I am able to focus on the One Thing that binds us together. Love.
What are some things that you would tell your younger self, if you had the opportunity to offer advice retrospectively?
This seems so obvious to me today, but I would tell myself to worry less about what others think and focus more on what drives my passions. That kind of permission would have given me courage to make different choices in my life. Perhaps I would have been a different kind of artist, rather than a commercial artist. Or maybe I would have become a teacher. I spent so much of my youth trying to please what I thought others expected of me, rather than tapping into my own psyche. I allowed external voices to embed so deeply into my subconscious that I wasn’t even aware of those choices and actions.
If you could be answering these questions from another location, anywhere in the world, where would that be?
For the first time in my life, I am exactly where I want to be. I look out the window and I see a Hudson River School painting. Plus, I have the most amazing community of support around me and I know how to engage that support when it matters. Yesterday I was delayed getting to my shop because a local farmer needed to walk his dairy cows across the street and into the barn to be milked. Nothing could have wiped the smile off my face.
Who are some role models in your life?
Anyone who possesses and demonstrates integrity is a role model to me. Iyanla Vanzant is the embodiment of integrity. She is my teacher and lovingly demands honesty and integrity at all times. If there is a misalignment, we discuss it. If it doesn’t “feel” right, we explore it. I have never met a more intuitive person. She has learned to trust her intuition and is a spectacular model for me.
My father was also a man of integrity. I didn’t appreciate or understand it until much later in his life, but once we understood our differences, we became great friends. I developed much compassion for his struggle of having a gay son and witnessed how he wrestled to understand me. Our honesty with each other became the foundation of great trust and respect. He truly was one of my best friends.
What are some common misconceptions about getting older generation that you’d like to change?
This biggest misconception is the idea that it is too late. Even in this interview I hear the contradiction of that thought. Earlier I mentioned my biggest regret of not becoming a teacher. I am in my mid-50s and onto a new venture professionally. It did occur to me that I could return to school and get a degree to become a teacher. That choice has always been available. What I didn’t expect was the opportunity to open a store. Initially I rejected the idea because it felt so farfetched, but when I framed the idea as a branding exercise, I relied on past skills that I didn’t possess when I was younger. I became excited by the idea that I was making something out of nothing.
What is something you appreciate now that you hadn’t before?
Old friendships carry a value that is unlike anything else. Only time can create that. There’s a song from Merrily We Roll Along called Hey Old Friend by Stephen Sondheim. A phrase in it says, “Most friends fade or they don’t make the grade. New ones are quickly made, and in a pinch, sure, they’ll do. But us, old friend, what’s to discuss, old friend. Here’s to us, who’s like us? Damn few.” And I just love that thought that history, and time, and experience move us to a place of trust with each other. I appreciate that.
What’s a lesson you learned within the last year that you’d like to share?
I was given an opportunity this year to try something completely new and I said YES. If I passed on the idea of opening a store in my town, I would still be doing the same ole thing. I took a risk. I said yes. I tapped into a part of myself I didn’t really appreciate before. And I’m succeeding in a way that is truly priceless.
What kinds of relationships are important to your work?
My business is built on all relationships. My little shop is a food shop. We make really good food and I terribly proud of what it is. But it’s so much more than food. It’s about community. I work really hard to make every person who walks through that door feel at home. That is at the core of my brand. The shop is called frank because it is an honest experience. The food is made with the freshest ingredients and infused with love. The design of the place is evocative of my dining room. The choices I make in the service are built on the customers need. I always put myself in seat of whomever I am serving and imagine the experience through their eyes. That is at the core of what my customer service is about. That philosophy is carried through to every individual that enters the building, whether it’s the guy who work for the distributors to the woman coming to fix my sink. Everyone is treated with utmost respect. I absolutely love people and getting their stories.
What would you like to be doing exactly five years from today? Ten years?
When I put together my business plan, I built it on a 15-year plan. I’m 4 months into it and it’s so exciting for me every day. I hope I can sustain this level of enthusiasm. I think I can because my big surprise is that my work actually feeds me – emotionally, physically, and financially.
What one idea would you like to share with the Silver Disobedience community?
Be willing to say YES.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
OR Just Come Visit me!
frank. food company at 14 N Main Street, Kent, CT 06757