Local Restaurant Owner Not Pleased With Reality Show Experience
by Emily Luxen
MADISON, Tenn. --- A local restaurant owner is speaking out about his recent experience on a reality TV show.
The Dinner Bell restaurant in Madison was featured on the Food Network show Restaurant: Impossible last week, and the owner said there was more to the story than what viewers saw.
"I think as far as an overall experience, it left us a little tainted about reality TV," said Dinner Bell Owner Tommy Kirkpatrick, "It was definitely an adventure."
Kirkpatrick has owned the restaurant for over 4 years. After years of slow sales, and what he described as "bad decisions," Kirkpatrick said he was just days from closing, when he reached out to the Food Network for help.
"We were excited," said Kirkpatrick. "We thought this is it. This is what we need. Someone will show us where I went wrong."
The show's goal is to help save failing restaurants in just two days, with the help of $10,000 and the expertise of chef and restaurateur Robert Irvine. In the episode, Irvine criticized the restaurant's bad food, dirty kitchen and bland décor. Kirkpatrick said he realized changes needed to be made, but he didn't appreciate the approach Irvine used.
"If someone says something about our food, I'm okay with that, but if you attack our people and staff, that was uncalled for."
The TV show depicts several emotional encounters between Irvine and Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick acknowledges there were several heated exchanges. Some employees said everyone was very tense.
"It was different, and it was difficult to watch my boss and co-workers go through things that they didn't need to go through," said waitress Mary Jo Austin.
After the whirlwind show, the Dinner Bell was left with a redecorated dining room, cleaned kitchen, new menu, and new prices. Kirkpatrick said all the changes have received mixed reviews from loyal customers.
"When you change it to a menu where we don't know what we're doing, and you try and charge higher prices. It just doesn't work here in Nashville," said Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick added the show's crew took off quickly, and left him with no recipes for new menu items, or support. He said he has since changed back to the old menu and lowered prices.
"We are looking forward to the future," said Kirkpatrick. "It's the same great food. I think it's going to be good for us."
Restaurant: Impossible Executive Producer Marc Summers responded to Kirkpatrick's criticism with this statement: "Dinner Bell, like all the establishments the Restaurant: Impossible team visits, sought out and invited us to help them. Unfortunately, it seems they may not have been prepared for the reality of what was uncovered, and are (now) sharing a version of events that differ from what was intended, or certainly what was experienced on our side. Restaurant: Impossible seeks to help beloved (and often troubled) establishments better themselves, not every person will be able to hear about the flaws or concerns uncovered and not take it personally or even try to deflect when they revisit the experience after their episode premieres."