They’re a funny bunch, the Fren family from Newcastle. And by funny, I mean humorous – and also unique in their own delightful way.
Mark and Cathy Fren, along with their children Victoria and Jonathon, have owned and run Bavarian restaurant Oma’s Kitchen on Watt Street since 2012. Cathy is in charge of the kitchen, using recipes passed down from her German grandmother.
Their lives changed in 2017 when they starred in season one of Nine’s reality series Travel Guides. Their offbeat, self-deprecating humour and confidence in front of the camera endeared them to audiences and the show’s producers, who asked them to return in 2018 for season two, and again this year. The first episode of season three airs on February 5.
The Frens will be holding a themed dinner and screening on Tuesday night at Oma’s Kitchen to celebrate, and this will be repeated weekly throughout season three. A caterer will this year take care of the cooking duties to allow the Frens to mingle with guests rather than being confined to the kitchen.
“We go to Hawaii in the first episode so Billy Goat Catering will be preparing a Hawaiian buffet. We’ll leave it in his capable hands,” Cathy says.
“It was really hard last year doing the cooking at the screenings because we’re away and having to close the restaurant all the time, so have only got a really small staff. We’re happy to hand it over to someone else and see how it goes.”
“Having a caterer is going to take the pressure off so that we can be a little more relaxed and sit and have a chat. And a buffet is right up our alley – we love a good buffet. Every week we will try to have some sort of food from the countries that we are visiting. Dinner starts at 7pm, then we watch the show on the big screen at 9pm and after that, have a chat and people can take photos if they want. It’s always a really fun night.”
You’ll be able to spot the Frens a mile away. They will all be wearing Hawaiian shirts purchased on their travels. So, how do they feel about season three? Excited, Cathy says, and thankful.
“It’s a great gig. We thought we were pretty lucky with season one, let alone getting to season three. It’s like winning the travel lottery, it really is. We were used to the camera after day one, it never bothered us. We’ve always been ourselves and never tried to be anyone different.
You know what? The question people ask us the most about season three is will Jonathon get a girlfriend.Mark Fren
“I think we are better at it now, though, because we know the routine. The people we work with on the show are just fantastic.”
Mark says the crew have got the formula just right when it comes to his family.
“They set the situation up for us and just stand back and watch our reactions. It’s funny, we always come home and sit back and reflect about the holiday and say ‘Did that really happen? Did you really say that?’ and we have a laugh.
“We feel so lucky that we get to do all of this as a family. We’ve had 24 wonderful holidays now, and the ride is still going. We’re happy as long as people are still watching the show and laughing at us just being ourselves. It has surprised us how much enjoyment people get from the show.”
That’s the rewarding part, Cathy says. Making people laugh. Meeting fans of the show has been a plus, too.
“We find it hard to go anywhere these days, to be honest,” Mark says, laughing.
“I’m serious. In Israel one of the sound guys told us these people kept on walking past. Eventually they came up to us and said they had seen us on TV – Travel Guides is screened in Israel – and wanted to meet us. And last Saturday we had five different groups from Sydney drive up to meet us.
“A lovely lady from Melbourne also rang, wanting to know what our Easter trading hours were because she was planning a holiday and wanted to make sure she saw us first. It’s really quite amazing and it has been great for business.”
The Frens travel to nine destinations in season three.
“We didn’t think they’d be able to beat series two but this year is going to be hilarious and the destinations are unbelievable,” Mark says.
All the regulars are back, Cathy says, and this year there’s a new team: a newlywed Indian-born couple from Melbourne.
If you’d like to watch Travel Guides with the Frens at Oma’s Kitchen on Tuesday night, go online to thefrenfamily.com and secure your seat at the table. You can also order handmade treats and Fren family merchandise online. The restaurant is otherwise open three days a week – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – from 11am until late, and the Frens also have a stall at Sunday’s Newcastle City Farmers Market.
“You know what? The question people ask us the most about season three is will Jonathon get a girlfriend,” Mark says, laughing again.
And the answer to that question?
“I’m just beyond all hope, really. The Frens are hopeless when it comes to match making,” Jonathon says. Quips his father: “It’s lucky we’re not on Married At First Sight being asked to match people together – although come to think of it, maybe Jonathon could try his luck on that show.”