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Dream ending for Ramsay's Kitchen turns into a nightmare

Gordon Ramsay appears to have bitten off more than he can chew in his mission to rescue failing restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic.

Gordon Ramsay appears to have bitten off more than he can chew in his mission to rescue failing restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic.

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More than half of the eateries the Scottish celebrity chef aimed to save through Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and its American equivalent have closed or been sold, The Herald can reveal.

His brutal-to-be-kind recipe for revival has been a TV ratings sensation on both sides of the Atlantic, but half of the 20 restaurants taken on by Ramsay in the US have closed. A further 12 out of 22 eateries in the UK who received the Ramsay treatment, over five series of the show, have now either shut or been sold.

The website for restaurant reviewers Eating Long Island, based in Garden City, New York, dubbed Ramsay "the new Black Widow" after three restaurants he gave the treatment to in the area all closed.

The latest eaterie to bite the dust has questioned whether Ramsay's high-quality standards are too costly in today's economic climate. Ramsay visited J Willy's Barbeque House in South Bend, Indiana, in February last year and changed the restaurant's focus from pizza to sandwiches and ribs. By spring, the owner had put the business up for sale and now it has closed.

The restaurant features in the second series of the chef's Fox network show - Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares USA - currently being shown on Channel 4. The restaurant's owner, John Ittenbach, who now finds himself and 40 members of his staff unemployed, admitted it was tough to do more with less and still keep to the standards Ramsay laid down.

"Gordon Ramsay has had a profound effect on my management style, which included making everything we serve fresh, each and every day, and to never lower our standards, no matter what," he said.

"Although this approach is generally considered to be the gold standard of restaurant operations, this approach to management gets called into question when operating in survival mode, as we were.

"With food prices increasing and customer counts decreasing in record numbers over the past several months, we were put in the unenviable position of cutting our standards below which we were comfortable, or else ceasing operations altogether.

"Recognising my passion to offer customers the best dining experience possible and, at the same time, vowing never to cut corners again, the decision to quit operations was inevitable." While Mr Ittenbach was grateful for the Scot's help, the owners of the Black Pearl seafood shack in New York were less civil when closing its doors towards the end of last year.

Describing Ramsay, who has an estimated personal fortune of £60m, as a "jerk" the owners said they hoped naively they would gain from the nationwide publicity.

"The sad fact is, from the beginning, it was clear that the show was a joke," the owners added. "From the very first day they were initiated, the changes Gordy Ramsay made were ridiculed by the press, hated by our regular customers and were the direct cause of a 50% drop in revenues. We were never able to recover financially."

When Ramsay carried out the makeover, the restaurant had debts of more than $250,000 (£177,000). It closed four days after the second series episode was first broadcast in the US. Sabatiello's Italian Steakhouse shut in December - one month after featuring on the series.

Five months after the Ramsay relaunch of Seascape in Islip, New York, the owner sold up. Also on the closure list are Trobiano's in Great Neck, New York; Peter's in Babylon, New York; The Mixing Bowl in Bellmore, New York; Sebastian's of Burbank, California, and Lela's of Pomona, California. Hannah and Masons of Cranbury, New Jersey, was also unavailable to take orders after its website was shut down and phone lines cut.

The celebrity chef's expansion to the United States has seen him open a number of his own restaurants over the past 18 months. But he has sold Gordon Ramsay at The London on Sunset Strip to LXR Luxury Resorts, owners of The London West Hollywood hotel. Ramsay is reported to be retaining a "creative input".

His New York restaurant has also been hit by critics, with Tim Zagat, publisher of the best-selling restaurant guide in New York, placing the flagship Gordon Ramsay at The London at number 38 in the overall food rankings.

This prompted New York Post food critic Steve Cuozzo to comment: "Gordo was once a great chef. Then he became a great businessman. Today he's more like a great big clown, with daily headline embarrassments of one sort or another."

By the time The Herald went to press, Gordon Ramsay had not replied to our inquiries asking for his comment.

Everyone's a critic in the US "The show's boorishness is exceeded only by its dissimulation; not one frame of this thing - from the diners who seem not to notice that their table is surrounded by camera crews, to the melodramatically villainous managers - is remotely believable." - Glenn Garvin (Miami Herald) "Of course, the show isn't really about illustrating prescriptions for success in the food biz, but capturing in-fighting and meltdowns spurred by Ramsay." - Ray Richmond (Hollywood Reporter) "If you like watching culinary train wrecks, this is your show." - Mike Duffy (Detroit Free Press) "Somewhere between a mediator and a drill sergeant, Ramsay comes with his impatient tough love to tear down and to rebuild. He is something to reckon with - not just successful and famous but physically imposing and given to profanity." - Robert Lloyd (Los Angeles Times) "The subtext of Kitchen Nightmares is that ordinary middle-class business owners need brash and brilliant moguls to save them from a sad reliance on their own mediocrity. It is an ugly message that Mr Ramsay makes undeniably hypnotic." - Ginia Bellafante (New York Times) "He is just as blustery and foul-mouthed here as he is on Hell's Kitchen. But he is also oddly endearing, mainly because he genuinely seems invested in the fate of each restaurant." - Randy Cordova (Arizona Republic)

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