America's Next Great...Judges?

Apologies for coming late to this story. The winner of NBC's America's Next Great Restaurant, which initially opened locations in LA, New York, and Minneapolis, is now down to just one restaurant in the Mall of America.


I enthusiastically watched this show from the beginning. Having one of my feet firmly planted in the 'foodietainment' scene, this contest made me giddy. We were going to see a dozen or so concepts refined and ridiculed until only one was left standing. Unfortunately, as the season was coming to an end I lost interest, but eventually heard the winner was Soul Daddy - a concept centered around "healthier" soul food. Whaaat!?


Rather than critique the judges choice for who won the show (which is definitely up for debate), what's more intriguing is the prize these judge/investors decided upon -- opening up three locations. Bobby Flay, Curtis Stone, Lorena Garcia, and Chipotle's Steve Ells are very intelligent, business-saavy people. Did they never imagine the concept they chose would face the hurdles it's facing now. Did they expect their "Midas touch" to set things in motion? Will the egg be on their face if Soul Daddy sinks even in the Mall of America? That wouldn't exactly call for a second season.


Having never opened a restaurant, I appreciated what this show tried to do -- to give average Americans an inside look into the restaurant business. As the show tried to convey, starting a restaurant isn't easy. There are tons of moving parts that must align in order to reach success. There are unexpected complications, kinks, and a constant cycle of trial and error. I clearly understood that from watching the show.


I'm just a little surprised that the expert judges (and/or NBC) seemed to have declared "Mission Accomplished" just a little too soon. If "Game Over" comes sooner than later for Soul Daddy, it will be interesting to hear the reaction from Flay, Stone, Garcia, and Ells. Perhaps picking the next great restaurant was a feat even they underestimated.


Your Thoughts! As a restaurant owner or being in the industry, are you surprised that the other two locations closed down so quickly? Were they trying to do too much too fast? Or is the concept just a dud?

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  • Hello Josh, 


    I think it's obvious that a lot of decisions made where taken in a boardroom for a cool tv show. Then someone sold the four "investors" the idea based on the power of television. The thinking behind it being that because of the the television attention people would flock to the 3 locations. But in like any other restaurant, people might try it once based on curiosity, but wouldn't return if the value wasn't there. 


    Also the expectations of clients was probably higher than if they'd just stumbled upon " Soul food" and try it on their own (because of the "Big Names" associated with it from the tv show.)

    The toughest thing in opening a restaurant, even with existing locations, is having consistency until everyone gets comfortable with their roles and all staff are aware of what's expected of them and how to do that right.


    There's no way a newcomer could do that with 3 restaurants so far apart. Neither Flay or Ells would have ever tried that with their own brands.


    It was a cool concept but in no way was it credible unless they'd have a full team working the 3 stores simultaneously weeding out problems and still that would have been a long shot. 


    Open up one store at a time, get really good at it, get great reviews and a system in place that you can duplicate. Most chains succeed based on the quality of their systems more then the quality of their foods. 


    Think about it. Think of any restaurant chain right now. Think of their signature product. I bet in most cases you can make better at home or you've had better in a little unknown restaurant. Yet these chains sell millions of dollars of said products every day. Why? The system they have in place. They spend more time working on the business then in the business.


    Too bad no one explained that too Jamawn Woods. I'm sure he's learned a lot in the last month.

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