November 11, 2012 02:46 PM by Donna W. Martin
Tonight on Kitchen Nightmares, Chef Gordon Ramsay was off to the historic neighborhood of Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, New York to help double restaurant owner, John Esposito salvage his family business before it went completely belly up.
John started working in his parents’ first restaurant, Sal’s Pizzeria when he was 8 or 10 years old and by the 1970’s when he was 14, John quit school to come into the business fulltime making pizzas. In the 90’s, John’s parents purchased the restaurant next door and named it Maria’s Italiano Ristorante. And Maria did all the cooking until she fell ill with cancer.
John inherited the two restaurants from after his parents passed away and clung to the past running the business like his parents always had. And he stayed at the pizza oven making pizzas instead of running the business. But that’s not working anymore. John runs the business like an old school Italian restaurant but over the years, a younger more hip crowd has moved in.
John knows the business is declining so he reluctantly reaches out to Gordon Ramsay for help. He thinks asking for help shows weakness. John admits that the business is only doing one-quarter the business it did in the past and says he can stand the thought of losing one of the restaurants. He said the restaurants were like mom (Maria’s) and dad (Sal’s) and that losing one would be like losing a parent again. “I’m not going to be able to handle that,” he said.
Gordon shows up to find a torn awning. “That’s not a good sign,” he said. Once inside Gordon orders three dishes for tasting. While the dishes are being prepared, Gordon meets Fran, who is responsible for showing the desserts to customers. Gordon asks to take a look and is presented with a butter covered moldy muffin. “It stinks,” he said.
Fabio, the manager comes over and argues with Gordon saying the desserts are for show and not to eat. Gordon argues that fresh desserts should be shown to customers, not stinky moldy ones.
The first dish out is the Patata. Gordon said it was “really bland and looks like someone ate the whole dessert tray and it shot out twice as fast as it went in!” He went on to say it was grainy like it had been frozen. And come to find out there “made fresh daily pasta” is made and frozen daily.
While waiting for the next dish, Gordon takes a look around the dining room and asks Fabio who cleans the plants. But of course, no one does. “And what’s that smell?” Gordon asked tipping the flowerpot and drenching himself and several customers with stinky plant water.
After offering to pay the customers cleaning bill, it was time for dish number 2, the spaghetti and meatballs. Gordon could tell the meatballs had been frozen. “They look rubbery and dry,” he said. “Disgusting frozen meatballs.”
The last dish Gordon received was the pizza – also a flop. “Greasy – full of grease,” Gordon said.
Gordon told John nothing should be leaving the kitchen without him tasting. John responded by saying I’ve had enough over and over then he threw pizza boxes.
Then it was time for Gordon to meet the kitchen staff. When Gordon asks about the quality of the food, Chef Joe tells him that he’s not in control of the menu and he’s ashamed of some of what they do there. John spoke up and said, “It’s my menu.”
Gordon hits John with a little tough love by saying, “the doors should be closed, – you’re in love with memories.” John doesn’t agree, and then Gordon storms out to take a shower because “I stink of plant juice,” he said.
Gordon returns to the restaurant that night to observe a dinner service at Maria’s and can’t believe that John is next door at Sal’s making pizzas instead of being in the kitchen. But that’s nothing compared to what happens when a vegetarian customer finds a bone in her sauce. Gordon hits the roof and John explains it away saying, “The sauce has been prepared that way for 40 years.”
“But a vegetarian can’t be served pork sauce, John,” Gordon said.
John goes back into his “I’ve had enough” tirade until a customer falls gravely ill after eating lobster tail and ends up in the bathroom vomiting. Gordon asks for a lobster just like the one the man received. And you guessed it – something fishy was definitely going on! The lobster smelled of ammonia. Gordon explained, “Ammonia is what you smell when the body starts decomposing – someone could be killed.” How gross – the man ate rotten lobster tail!
Gordon insists John call the paramedics and while they waited for their arrival, John helped himself to a stiff shot of vodka. When the paramedics arrived John played off the situation saying, “A customer ate lobster and had a reaction.” Don’t you mean rotten lobster, John?
At this point, Gordon has had enough and demands the restaurant be closed immediately. All the customers are asked to leave and Gordon pulls John outside for a talk. An upset John explains to Gordon that he has sacrificed his education for his parents – they threw him in the business as a young child like a donkey.
Gordon insisted that John take a “long step back and stop running the business from the pizza oven.”
But a teary-eyed John said, “Emotionally, I can’t.” Then added, “I need a break” and went inside.
Sensing John’s pain, Gordon followed John inside for a much-needed pep talk. “We can do this,” Gordon told him.
The next morning, Gordon went to the restaurant early to do some “research.” He founds tons of frozen foods. The food was both unnamed and undated. There was freezer burned chicken by the bucket full, frozen molded meatballs, veggies, pasta, and other foods that weren’t even identifiable. It was an endless amount of food. Gordon piles the food up to show John and his staff “and there’s more downstairs,” Gordon said. There’s enough food for more than 12 months of operation here, Gordon said.
John took responsibility for the waste. He said, “I let it get past my grasp.” He admitted he was still buying like he did when the business was thriving.
Then Gordon noticed the specials board that had been in the restaurant since his parents died. Gordon told him, “You’re still treating the business as if mom and dad are still here.” He explained, “We have to let go.”
John told him to throw it out because it was holding him back but Gordon said, “No – take it home with you. But we’ve got to let go of the past.”
Gordon sat John down for another talk and explained to him, “It’s your time now and I’m here to help you,” Gordon said. “But only under one condition, you must step away from the pizza oven.”
Gordon’s team came in that night to overhaul the look of the restaurant and to deep clean everything.
The next morning John and his staff stood blindfolded outside Maria’s. Gordon told them to remove the blindfolds and there they saw the old torn awning gone and a new modern sign in its place. Then they headed inside to see all the interior updates. “When you go inside, you’re going to sh*t yourself,” Gordon said.
The new décor gave the restaurant a real Brooklyn feel. The walls were painted turquoise and new artwork hung on the walls. Gordon made sure to keep the memories alive by hanging life-size photos of John’s parents hard at work in the restaurant in the old days. And the table coverings were printed with old newspaper articles and pictures of John and his family from years long past to show the history of the restaurant.
John said, “I have a new lease on life.”
But Gordon wasn’t done. A new and improved menu was next. And the re-launch of the restaurant was that night. Gordon arranged for journalists and bloggers to come to the re-launch and he gave John a crisp new shirt so he’d look like the owner instead of a member of the staff.
The re-launch went off without a hitch. John got a little sidetracked chatting with people too long but other than that, the night was a success. Gordon told John, “You’re a hardworking, honest man. Go forward.”
“I refuse to go backward,” John said. “I am going to lead like my father did.”
Since Gordon left, John has continued to do well and the restaurant is well on its way back to being a fixture in Brooklyn once again.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? The rotten lobster was a bit much, don’t you think? And what about the molded desserts and tons of frozen food? Do you think John will keep going forward? Or do you think he’ll find his way back to the pizza oven? Post a comment below and tell us what you think.
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