'Kitchen Nightmares': So you bought a restaurant, now what?

Gordonramsay_kn_240_005 Running a restaurant might look like a really easy thing to do -- after all, you just hire a cook, get some local teens to wait tables and you're pretty much good to go, right? Yeah, not so much. However, in the cases of both restaurants tonight on Kitchen Nightmares it kind of looked like that's all the owners figured they had to do.

The first example of this tonight was Hannah & Mason's, a nice little French restaurant in Cranberry, New Jersey. The place was bought a few years back by two guys, Chris and Brian, who had been workers there. Chris was the hard-working one, and Brian was the disinterested one. But "hard-working" takes on a new meaning with a restaurant that's only open three nights a week (there may have been some lunches too, but that wasn't explicitly stated).

Gordon's opening meal consisted of some French onion soup, Chris thought it was one of the best things on the menu, Gordon hated it; "lamb lollipops" which Nick, the manager thought was great, Gordon hated it; and a mushroom and spinach quiche, which looked absolutely horrific, Gordon hated it. Brian was completely shocked that Gordon didn't like their food, but shrugged it all off anyway with a nice "whatever."

The first dinner service Gordon got to witness was Valentine's Day, Gordon was... heartbroken. There was a lovely display dessert tray. The desserts didn't look particularly good, but what with them being "for display only" the biggest problem was that they probably wouldn't sell any desserts because they weren't appetizing. Once someone did actually serve one of the "display" desserts though the problem instantly changed. It then grew somewhat when Gordon saw all the brown lettuce, the incredibly old shrimp sitting in a display case (Brian thought it was a bread pudding), and the cooked chicken sitting in the same container as raw chicken. Gordon shutdown the kitchen, he even busted out the yellow caution tape. Some of the waitresses started to cry. See, that's why I don't go out on Valentine's Day. It's just not worth the hassle.

What with Cranberry being farmland, Gordon opted to check out the local produce the next morning and bought a ton of apples. He brought them back to the restaurant to show Brian and Chris a new special with pork and some Braeburn apples. Brian was wholly unenthused, he told Gordon that if he wanted to learn to cook like the famed chef he'd buy one of Gordon's books. Honestly, I was surprised that Gordon didn't smack Brian right then and there. I think Gordon may actually have been too shocked to act.

The dinner service went downhill from that point. Gordon kept acting like Gordon -- yelling, screaming, and looking for "passion" -- and Brian kept resisting in his laid-back, disinterested attitude. Brian threatened to leave, but instead had a magical transformation and by the end of the service seemed excited by everything (I think he was just faking it for the cameras).

By the next morning it was Chris who was causing the problems. He hated the newly revamped place. I can kind of understand his point, the restaurant went from being a French bistro (with horrific food) to being more of an upscale bakery/café. Not quite what he had bought a few years ago, the fine dining aspect of the place was gone. Chris claimed he was just shocked by the changes, that he needed time to absorb it, which was part of it, but definitely not the whole story.

The new restaurant menu required that Hannah & Mason's flip tables in order to turn a profit. That part of the scheme didn't go particularly well during the relaunch. Chris, who was doing the entrees, was terribly slow and his way of speeding things up was to not make more mashed potatoes when they ran out. He wanted to substitute something else for the mashed potatoes, which wasn't exactly in line with Gordon's thinking, who wanted to see Chris do the right thing instead of the easy thing. Either way, their mashed potatoes are probably better than mine, but in my experience mashed potatoes don't take tons of time to cook.

The restaurant did manage to do two full seatings, but Gordon still wasn't hugely enthused. By the end of the relaunch Gordon seemed to have come to the conclusion that both Brian and Chris were kind of lazy and that neither necessarily had the discipline or heart to make the place successful.

The second restaurant of the night, Jack's, was a fish place on the water that had recently been bought by three bodybuilders, Bill, Scott, and Tammer. The place, they all pretty much agreed, had horrible food. So, they brought in AJ, Tammer's dad, to straighten things out in the kitchen. AJ was an abysmal failure in the kitchen, so they moved him to the front of the house, as a general manager, where he had since proceeded to get loaded on Ouzo almost every night. They couldn't fire him though because he was Tammer's dad.

But, Tammer wasn't the only problem owner. Scott had been told to not come to the restaurant because he scared the customers and staff. Scott wasn't quite sure why he scared people but certainly accepted that he did. I could have told Scott that staring at people like he stared at Gordon during Gordon's meal could have been a large part of it.

The meal, as you assuredly know, didn't go well. Gordon had a krab omellette (Aaron, the chef, spelled it with a "k" because the crab meat was fake), which he managed to put one bite of in his mouth before spitting it into his napkin and sending it back. The fish and chips featured frozen cod, and the salmon dish was "one of the worst salmon dishes" he'd ever eaten.

To be fair to the chef, he didn't want to serve fake crab or frozen cod, he wanted to be serving fresh fish but was told by one of the owners or AJ that he wasn't allowed. When asked who was in charge of the food, AJ said Aaron, but he only meant that Aaron was the man cooking, not the man in control. Neither Bill or Scott, who were standing right there, claimed to be in charge of the menu, but no one tried to say that Aaron was given any leeway with it either

During the first dinner service we got to see Aaron try to run the kitchen, and while he was really good at the yelling at the staff, no one seemed to be listening. Gordon said (when he went outside for his mid-meal chat with the camera) that almost 20 dishes had come back during the service. Where was the general manager during this? Smoking a cigarette with customers, where did you think?

After the meal, Gordon sat down with the owners and AJ, and Scott finally told AJ how he felt about the manager's skiving on his work. But who knows how that discussion ended because the show went to commercial and when it came back it was the next morning and we got to see Gordon be livid about the state of the kitchen. While AJ was responsible for some of that, surely Aaron should take some responsibility for the food storage too, right?

Gordon's first change at Jack's was the addition of a couple of fresh specials and giving Scott some tables to wait on during the dinner service. Scott may not have been the best waiter, but the real problem was in the kitchen, not so much Aaron, but the staff he had inherited who didn't bother to pay attention or do any work. Gordon had to give the kitchen staff a swift kick in the pants before food started to emerge and wanted to see Aaron do the same in the future.

The relaunch featured a brand new menu with guess what... fresh fish. The place was absolutely packed and as Gordon hadn't fired everyone in the kitchen things were pretty bad. Aaron needed help, so AJ went to the kitchen to lend a hand, which is kind of like suggesting Sarah Palin can help Obama with his foreign policy. When Aaron started to get lip from the kitchen staff, Scott decided he'd heard enough and started yelling at the staff, which did reestablish a modicum of order and also showed why the staff was afraid of him.

Great, so the place was better by the end of the night, but AJ was still a $100,000/year waste of space, and that doesn't even count the cost of the liquor he had been downing. Scott pointed that out at the end of the night, and Tammer agreed that AJ's cutting back his hours would be hugely helpful (AJ claimed to work 80 hours a week). Gordon said that AJ ought to cut his hours and pay as well, and the old man agreed. He also then said to the camera that they'd recognize at some point (perhaps, he suggested, on his death bed) that he was needed at Jack's. The little postscript we got said that Tammer canned AJ within weeks of Gordon having left (and Aaron fired two of his kitchen staff as well).

See, running a restaurant isn't necessarily the easiest thing in the world. Gordon Ramsay can do it blindfolded and with one hand tied behind his back, but then again, he's Gordon Ramsay.

Question of the week -- do you think that either of these places survived much past the relaunch? I kind of doubt it.

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