On last night's America's Next Great Restaurant, we got to see the aspiring restaurateurs step up to the plate in a BIG way. Everyone headed to Universal Studios to serve their food to a crowd of 1,000 people. Oh, but first they had to interview and choose individual chefs to work with (it was kinda priceless when Hick's Krystal fought Saucy Balls' Joey for the Southern-style chef who also happened to call Scarface his favorite flick, ughh). And they had to have a graphic designer style their logo.
It all felt very deja vu-ish to me. Maybe that's because I'm used to Project Runway, where the designers all have to pick models and design while pleading their cases to Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum. Here, you've got investors Bobby Flay, Lorena Garcia, Curtis Stone, and Steve Ells walking the room, while the restaurateurs and their chosen chefs prepare the food they're going to serve to the masses. Of course, the investors offer a tip here, a jab there.
This was the part of the show that made me feel like the format is such an obnoxiously recycled mix of bits and pieces from other reality shows. But, whatever, it does make up for it by having some interesting competition.
Call it schadenfreude, but I was kinda happy to see some of the other competitors tank -- or get an ego check (ahem, like the out-of-control cocky taco guy, Alex). So, that Southern food tapas concept, Hick's, sounded great on paper, but then at Universal, the redneck-lovin' duo, Gregory and Krystal, served nasty fat-on-fat bacon/sausage, tater tots casserole, and something else my brain probably blocked out for fear that just remembering the description would clog my arteries. Steve Ells told 'em that there was nothing healthy there, and it just wasn't going to work. (I don't blame him! Chipotle works because you can healthy-ize or fatty-ify it, but everything is fresh and "better-for-you" than the average fast food, for the most part.)
Even better was when Ells told Alex that his not-at-all-original, tattoo-inspired Hard Rock ripoff logo did not impart anything to the consumer about tacos. It doesn't, and the name itself, Hard 'n' Soft, is just pathetic. How generic can you get? And this guy had the audacity to say that Steve just doesn't get it. I'm sorry, who is the incredibly successful multi-millionaire restaurateur here? Not you, Alex buddy.
In the end, though, it was Fran, the former WNBA player with the "Sports Wrap" concept, who got the boot. She wasn't amenable to constructive criticism from the investors (like the fact that her chicken was dry and under-seasoned). Any manager who thinks they can do no wrong is headed for disaster. And here's one case in which I kinda was with the jerk bag Alex who can't seem to mind his own business and has something nasty to say about all of the other competitors. DIY healthy wraps is nothing new. It is -- as Alex so kindly put it -- "Subway with a scoreboard." It's, like the investors said, any mom and pop sandwich shop in the country. Fran seemed like a cool woman with a lot of passion, but I couldn't see her concept translating to the next Chipotle. And so for that reason, it makes sense that she was told "see ya" last night.
The clearest front runner, for now, seems to be Eric, aka the Grilled Cheese guy (Meltworks is the name of his brand). He won the Universal Studios competition by earning the most thumbs-up from patrons. Personally, I don't think America needs more cheese on top of carbs in our lives.
Guess we'll just have to see who can take the heat next week, when all of the competitors will have to work together to run a Chipotle at rush hour. Eeek!!! How much guac ya wanna bet Steve Ells is gonna freak out?
Do you think Fran deserved the boot last night? What is your favorite restaurant concept so far?
Image via NBC