(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Restaurant is a current NBC reality show. It is scheduled for a six-week run and takes viewers into the internal workings of opening a restaurant. Following is a review of the show, not the food. It is not a pretty picture.)
By Doral Chenoweth
The Columbus Dispatch
The Grumpy Gourmet
The only way I would dine at New York's latest new restaurant, Rocco's, is if I took my own food.
A pair of plastic sanitary gloves should be next to salad forks.
One of the waiters looks like Uday.
Others have five o'clock shadow. One rubbed his nose while taking orders tableside.
Some of the female servers looked as though their hair was done by a weedwhacker. Even one of the commercials in my time zone seemed out of place for this story line. Nexium, a purple pill for heartburn, had a neat Italian waiter pitching his exquisite Italian fare with a promise to bring on heartburn. I couldn't tell pitch from script.
Rocco's basement kitchen looked like a firetrap. Orkin's number should have been posted on all walls.
I saw the building's landlord sneaking around before the opening. I did not see health or fire department snoops.
NBC is spending six weeks puffing Rocco DiSpirito's newest eatery. It is being billed as a reality show. The Restaurant comes across to all residing west of the Hudson River as a horror show. Of course, my thoughts are biased because the only opinions I hear are from restaurant people.
Chef DiSpirito will go down in restaurant history for bagging the biggest free advertising coup since Earl of Sandwich slapped two slices of bread together and managed to keep the free world talking about it.
New Yorkers apparently love the show The Restaurant. New Yorkers love restaurants. New Yorkers love chefs. They make stars out of chefs. DiSpirito has legitimate chef credentials. He already owns two successful Manhattan restaurants. He has a national presence after cooking shows on TV Food Network and NBC's Today show.
My favorite New Yorker in the restaurant business is Jessica Bride, an effective huckster for Smith & Wollensky as well as a student at the prestigious French Culinary Institute. Of DiSpirito she says, "I love the show and I really didn't want to. I've had so many grand openings; I had the 'I know better than he does' attitude before I saw the show. I think the show is the greatest. Camera work is brilliant and he's absolutely adorable."
Collective opinions in my Ohio restaurant hotbed say such a show is good for the industry. It will give people a picture of what it takes to open a restaurant. It is a Big Apple-based story that has already been repeated 870,000 times across the nation. It is a condensed version of an industry that is the biggest collective employer in the nation. Those millions may provide the biggest viewer base for any television in Nielsen history for a startup.
Yeah, but that is where I drop off.
Thrust of the show is the chaotic scene when a new restaurant opens. This opening is strung out over six weeks. As is said about making sausage, you wouldn't want to see it. Consensus is The Restaurant is a hit. It is about an industry that gobbles up 80,000 new chefs annually. Some stay. Many burn out. DiSpirito is not burned out. Yet.
The Restaurant the show dramatizes what it takes to open a restaurant in New York City. Up front, it took $3 million to open Rocco's, The Restaurant. DiSpirito's constant drumbeat of TV spots for one of his sponsors, American Express, repeats the grim fact that in New York, "nine out of 10 restaurants close in the first year."
For three mill I could open six restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa, and skim enough from each opening to buy a condo at 3000 Grand Blvd., that Midwest city's posh address. My only problems in Iowa would have to deal with health and building codes.
Unlike Rocco's race to the finish line, I would quietly unlock the doors one evening and see who walks by. Maybe they would enter out of curiosity. Maybe they would have a quiet dinner. Maybe I could turn around that dark and foreboding stat of nine-out-of-10 closings in the first year. Who is listening?
The Restaurant, the series, may make it into reruns as a training flick for some hospitality school. We could call it the Rocco Horror Show.
NEXT WEEK: An Ohio State hospitality professor predicts disaster for Rocco's, the restaurant, not the TV show.
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