Borrelli’s Italian Restaurant was packed with guests dressed in blue and orange, New York Islanders colors — and the occasional Boston Bruins fans in black and yellow — before the two teams faced off at Nassau Coliseum on March 19.
In the restaurant, all eyes were on the staff of Barstool Sports, which was broadcasting its Sirius XM radio show live prior to the game. The sports and pop culture media group, founded in the Boston metropolitan area in 2003, moved to Manhattan in 2016.
Later that year, the group added an on- and off-air personality with whom many Borrelli’s regulars were no doubt familiar. Frankie Borrelli, 25, recently shared with the Herald how he went from working at his family’s restaurant to starring in a nationally broadcast radio show in the same place he once waited tables.
Borrelli started working when he was 18, having spent most of his childhood watching his father, Frank Borrelli Jr., run the business that his father, Frank Sr., opened in 1955. “I thought that was gonna be my future,” said the youngest Borrelli. “I thought I was gonna take it over, you know, as a third-generation family owner.”
He had already begun introducing some initiatives to bring the restaurant into the 21st century, hosting Cornhole tournaments in the parking lot, building Borrelli’s’ social media presence on platforms like Facebook and Snapchat, and teaching himself to shoot video so he could film its events and fundraisers.
Then, in the summer of 2016, Borrelli learned that Barstool Sports was moving and, for the first time, it was seeking interns. “I was such a big Barstool fan,” he said. “I love all their content — I’m a huge sports fan. Never in my life did I think that I’d end up working there.”
In an email applying for the internship, Borrelli recalled, he summarized his life story and noted all the work he was putting into promoting his father’s restaurant.
He didn’t get an internship. He got an email response from the site’s founder, Dave Portnoy, with the subject line “My Guy.” Portnoy offered Borrelli a full-time job, working directly under him in New York City.
Fans of Barstool might recognize Borrelli as one of the faces in a pizza-reviewing comedy segment called “One Bite” that airs on YouTube. He is also a producer of the radio show, chats on the media group’s golf podcast and is the drummer in its parody band Pup Punk.
But it took a while for Borrelli to become the media personality that he is now. In his first few months at Barstool, he said, Portnoy called him a “timid little mouse.” Borrelli recalled sitting at his desk, waiting for his boss to give him work to do until, two months into his tenure, Portnoy told him he needed to get his act together.
“He wanted me to be an extension of his brain,” Borrelli said. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Two weeks before, I was [listening to] this guy from Borrelli’s. Now I’m supposed to tell him what to do?”
Borrelli broke out of his shell as the 2016 New York City Marathon approached that November: His first pitch was for Barstool Sports to host a pizza marathon for “One Bite.” He ordered a running singlet for Portnoy to wear as he followed the race route and reviewed pizza at restaurants along the way.
“[Portnoy] takes shots on people, and they always come through,” Borrelli said. “My dad taught me to love pizza, golf, music and sports, and all these things I grew up loving are all coming full circle right now. The Barstool formula just worked.”
Next, Borrelli turned Barstool Sports’ attention to another love of his life, the Islanders. “Growing up, I felt that the media didn’t talk about the Islanders much,” he said. “And they sucked, so I understood why.”
But Borrelli writes about the Islanders multiple times a day on his Twitter feed. When Portnoy noticed this, he made it a trademark of Borrelli’s character on the show. “He brings out the fun and quirky in everyone he works with,” Borrelli said of his boss. “I have a blind passion for a team that hasn’t done anything in my lifetime, and he just loved that.”
The Islanders lost to the Bruins on March 19, “so Dave had his fun with that,” Borrelli added.
Asked what his family thought of the show, he said that his parents are some of the biggest Barstool fans he knows. “My dad wears a Barstool hat every single day,” he said. “They listen to every single radio show, no matter how crazy it gets. Sometimes I have to block out that they’re listening so I don’t change how I act on the show.”
Borrelli’s parents can also be found in the crowd at Pup Punk concerts, and spent their anniversary last September at the band’s performance at the House of Blues in Boston. During its set, the lighting crew trained a spotlight on the couple while the band played a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”
“It was really awkward for me,” Frankie said with a laugh. “People have told me their favorite parts of our shows are watching my parents’ reactions. They were like hugging and crying together. It gets me emotional to think that they care so much about something I love doing.”
When Barstool came to Borrelli’s, he said he had no doubt that the show would run smoothly. “I wasn’t nervous at all,” he said. “I knew they’d bring my dad on the show and he’d be funny. I knew my mom would make everyone feel at home. And everybody at [Barstool] said my family was so gracious. It was a really important day for me.”