There's a certain rhythm to Frank Thorpe's day.
He shows up at Nick & Eddie's, or at J.D. Hoyt's Supper Club, to help prep for the crowds and the orders of beef Wellington or lobster tacos.
And then, about 4 o'clock, he walks home to start his performance. Some nights, he slips into a mismatched plaid suit with a waffling pattern and jaunty butterfly lapels. Or it might be a skin-tight snakeskin kind of night. Accessories might include a lady's pink dress jacket, a pair of slip-on Vans in primary colors or a pirate's hat. And then, it's back to work as the floor manager/maitre'd, to ask, "Party of two?" and seat the bemused customers.
"The first time I met him, I think he was wearing a pencil-thin waiter's mustache he had drawn on with Magic Marker," says Megan Kampa, a server at In Season restaurant and Thorpe's long-time girlfriend.
Over the years (and he's been doing this for years), Thorpe has developed a kind of cult following among Minneapolis restaurant diners, who look around upon entering his restaurant du jour and asking, "Is Frank working?"
"If I'm going to one of his places, it's the first thing," says Robert Stephens, the founder of Geek Squad and frequent restaurant-goer. "I have to see what Frank has on. Must. I can't tell you how many sleepless nights I've had trying to dream up companies I can invent just so I can put Frank Thorpe at the front desk."
Stephens and others say it's best not to try to seek him out, but to let Thorpe appear out of the fashion ether, like a surprise Chloe Sevigny sighting. Depending on the night, he's at J.D. Hoyt's or Nick and Eddie's, or nowhere at all. Former haunts have included Heidi's, Cave Vin and (now closed) Pane Vino Dolce.
Co-workers attest to the fact that Thorpe is completely mellow about his fashion choices, as if were the most natural thing in the world to wear a pirate hat to work.
"One time I was like, 'Frank, you've got a woman's purse.' And he was like, 'Oh, yeah?'" says Noah Miller, a line cook at Heidi's and Ike's Steakhouse at the airport. "He's like an indifferent English lord, or an aging rock star."
About 6 feet 2 with a 29-inch waist and a close crop of graying curls, Thorpe has the uncanny ability to make most anything -- even a dog collar -- look rather debonair.
"He showed up to our first date in a red denim suit," says Kampa. "And I'm not talking like a subtle red. I'm talking like '80s red. He looked good."
His secret, he says, is hours and hours and hours of shopping. He spends at least four hours a week turning the racks at Steeple People, Value Village, Everyday People and the Salvation Army basement. Thorpe confesses that he probably has enough '70s-style, poly-blend jackets that he could wear a different one every day of the year.
"Any time we put something out that looks like something the band Devo would wear it, we say, 'Frank's gonna pick this one up,'" said Mark Schneider, the floor manager at Steeple People, a thrift store owned by Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.
Thorpe's bosses say he's an exceptionally hard worker and good with the customers. But his fashion is sacrosanct. Even though he's part-owner of Heidi's, he stopped hosting there when his fellow partners asked him to wear a black jacket and tie to work.
"He did it for awhile," says Kampa, who was a server at Heidi's at the time. "It was a downer, though. The line cooks and the servers were all kind of bummed."
Alyssa Ford is a Twin Cities freelance writer.