The Fish Friar

Bringing Fresh Seafood Downtown

By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Steven J. Pallone 

When The Fish Friar co-owner, Giovanni Giardina, began his career in the Syracuse restaurant industry at Alto Cinco, he was asked why he wanted to join the team.

“I want to open up my own restaurant one day,” he answered.

He spent the next several years learning the ins and outs of the industry and, in 2013, helped open Otro Cinco in downtown Syracuse.

Then, in April 2017, his dream became a reality when he opened The Fish Friar at 239 E. Genesee St., Syracuse.

With a simple menu of fresh seafood cuisine paired with craft beer and wines, the restaurant’s mission is “to bring super-fresh, wild-caught seafood from the coast of Maine to Syracuse,” according to its website.

Along with influence from his family and upbringing, Giovanni was drawn to specializing in fresh seafood because he found that locally “there’s nowhere to get fried fish and sit down,” he said.

Once the location was found, Giovanni and co-owner Phillip Kelly got to work creating the design and atmosphere of the eatery. They aimed to keep things clean and simple, complimenting the existing tin ceiling with dark wood floors, wooden tables crafted from countertops and white walls.

In terms of the menu creation and sourcing, Giovanni knew the foundation of the menu would be breaded fish, shipped a couple times a week from Maine and never frozen.

“That gives people who want fresh seafood the sense that this is pure,” he said.

The Fish Friar’s unique specialty is what brought the restaurant’s general manager, Derek Spanfelner, on board.

“That was part of my appeal for joining up here,” he said, “that there was a niche that hadn’t been explored in Syracuse.”

Derek brought knowledge of craft beer and fine wines to the table when he joined the team. He’s worked to create relationships with local brewers, which have led to pairing events at the restaurant. Check The Fish Friar’s Facebook page for upcoming events.

When the team opened the restaurant, they strove to create a place not just customers would love, but staff, as well.

“It’s one big team,” Derek said, explaining that they aim for as little separation as possible between staff who create the food and those who serve it.

Many members of the team are even cross-trained, including prep cook Lauran Faes.

Lauran actually became familiar with The Fish Friar as a customer. She loved the environment so much that she eventually asked to join the team.

What drew her was the “the whole idea: the fresh seafood, the sustainability of it,” she said. “I just loved the whole infrastructure of it all.”

Now, Lauran and the team make everything from menu items to the restaurant’s specials, which are often based on what they find at the market that morning.

They also partner with other downtown restaurants to create off-menu specials. It’s a community of neighbors they’re excited to collaborate with.

“It’s cool because we’re helping each other grow. We’re here doing this together. It doesn’t feel competitive to me,” Derek said. “We’re all building downtown together.”

“Everyone’s helping each other,” Giovanni agreed. SWM

The Fish Friar is located at 239 E. Genesee St. in downtown Syracuse. For menus and specials, hours, events and more, visit thefishfriar.com or facebook.com/thefishfriar. You can also connect with them on Instagram @thefishfriar.

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