Watch out, Southern California. The infamous wrath of Kitchen Nightmares star Chef Gordon Ramsay is headed to town this Thursday. His latest target? Lido di Manhattan Ristorante & Bar in Manhattan Beach, a wine and tapas bar owned by USC Marshall School of Business graduate Lisa Hemmat.
In 2004, after relocating to Manhattan Beach and surveying more than 50 potential venues, 23-year-old Hemmat opened her first restaurant, Lido di Manhattan. Six years later -- an eternity in the restaurant business -- Lido di Manhattan has become a favorite among the local Manhattan Beach crowd but has struggled, as Hemmat described, "to truly put itself on the map." Enter Kitchen Nightmares.
Hemmat, admittedly unfamiliar with Gordon Ramsey's bootcamp-esque show but interested in the prospect of a free renovation, says "a friend brought me the [Kitchen Nightmares] casting sheet. It had all these questions that I found myself answering 'Yes' to, like 'Are you trying to make some green, but still running red?' 'Or maybe you have a great location, but it doesn't seem to entice many customers?' So I applied and casting signed [Lido] up right away."
After a difficult initial casting session, during which Hemmat says the production team "exposes your worst sides and has everyone fighting," Lido's poised and protective owner began to wonder what she had gotten herself, her staff and her restaurant into. She didn't have to wait long to find out, as barely a month later official filming began.
True to Kitchen Nightmares form, the now 28-year-old Hemmat says on the first day of filming, "Gordon Ramsay came in, met me and was nice but immediately started questioning my age. He said, 'How old are you? What are you doing in this business so young?'" Hemmat then watched Ramsay send dish after dish back to the kitchen, calling them "horrible." It wasn't until Ramsay came into the kitchen and (ironically) grilled the staff about using the occasional frozen ingredient -- a fact of which the mostly front-of-house Hemmat was unaware -- that Hemmat realized it was in Lido's best interest to take Ramsay's criticism seriously.
But a particularly rough dinner service, during which Ramsay temporarily shut down Lido's kitchen after discovering a fingerful of dust, left Hemmat in tears. "[Ramsay] wouldn't let food out of the kitchen until it was clean, but he didn't tell [our customers]. So I go to the dining room and see tables leaving because they didn't get their food and have to ask why they're leaving. Gordon yelled at me and I just broke down. What had I done to myself? To my restaurant? I wasn't ready for all this."
Upon regaining her composure, Hemmat and Ramsay had what she describes as their "first real and honest conversation. It wasn't for the cameras, it was for me and the restaurant." The next day, the celebrity chef began the process of re-building Hemmat's confidence, transforming Lido's interior into a modern neighborhood wine and tapas bar, and redesigning the menu with made-from-scratch specialties including wild mushroom flatbread, crab linguine and tuna Nicoise salad. Ramsay also left Lido's kitchen with perhaps the best gift of all: a month-long rotation with Hell's Kitchen chef Scott Leibfried.
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With Lido's new menu, an extensive hand-picked wine list, Thursday night wine tasting events and quarterly cooking classes featuring local chefs, it's clear Ramsay's culinary wisdom wasn't lost on Hemmat. While the process was "the biggest emotional roller coaster I've ever experienced... chef Ramsay left me with hope, confidence and the feeling that I could conquer the world," says Hemmat. "It was really inspiring. I hope we put Lido on the map and keep people coming back."
Kitchen Nightmares airs on Thursday, March 4 at 9:00 p.m. on FOX. To attend Lido di Manhattan's viewing party, call (310) 536-0730. Reservations are recommended.
Lido di Manhattan: 1550 Rosecrans Avenue, Manhattan Beach (310) 536-0730
Christie Bishop is author of PardonMyCrumbs.com.