Kitchen Nightmares Episode Recaps

Cafe Tavolini

Cafe Tavolini

Aired: 3/25/11

Husband and wife Keith and Lisa bought Café Tavolini, an Italian restaurant in the Manhattan suburb of Bridgeport, Connecticut, on a whim, despite the fact that they had no experience in the restaurant business. The restaurant was packed with customers initially, but now, according to server Van (whose mother is Lisa and stepfather is Keith), the place is empty - even on Saturday nights! Lisa admits that when the business turned negative, she and her husband turned negative along with it. Joli, Lisa's daughter, says that her mom and Keith hate being there and staffers are frustrated that instead of managing the place, the couple watch the restaurant via a surveillance camera from their home computer and then nitpick. Café Tavolini is some $350,000 in debt and Keith and Lisa's marriage is suffering from all the stress and fighting.

Before Chef Ramsay even parks his car, Van jumps in to give him the lowdown, and explains that Keith is only at the restaurant today because he knows that Chef Ramsay is going to be here. When Chef Ramsay finally makes it inside, he's greeted by Keith and Lisa and asks how often they're here. Keith says that he's there six days a week, and Lisa says she works most nights, but Van chimes in to say they're actually there "zero." Chef Ramsay says that he needs the truth and nothing but the truth and then sits down to lunch. He then meets server Ricky, who tells him that the restaurant's biggest issue is a lack of management. After Chef Ramsay asks Ricky to send Keith out, he soon discovers he's left.

Chef Ramsay starts out with Tavolini's "grandmother's meatball salad" and calls it "an insult to grandmothers" and "a mess." Next comes the stuffed clams (which were microwaved just prior to being served). He asks Van to help him find the clams. Van can't find any and admits that the dish tastes like only breadcrumbs. Finally, he digs in to the pan-roasted salmon, which is undercooked and stone-cold in the middle. The risotto was made yesterday, and Chef Ramsay's calls the dish "a taste of Italian leftovers for $21."

Keith finally returns and argues with Van, saying, "You have no clue what I do!" before getting into an argument with Lisa, who threatens to leave. Chef Ramsay overhears the shouting and heads back to find a hysterical Lisa. Chef Ramsay tells them that the food was a disgrace and he needs a break. When he returns, he sits down with just Lisa to get up to speed on Café Tavolini's financials. Lisa says that the money simply isn't coming in, their house was foreclosed on, and they don't take a salary. She's depressed and sometimes considers divorce. She's concerned that if the restaurant closes, her marriage won't survive.

That evening, Chef Ramsay observes a dinner service in the super-tiny kitchen. The restaurant has a full dining room tonight as news of Chef Ramsay's visit has spread around town. Lisa bugs server Ricky to put her dinner order in, but an exasperated Ricky insists on serving customers first. Food starts going out of the kitchen so quickly that Chef Ramsay becomes concerned. His concerns are warranted. It turns out that many dishes are cooked in advance and kept in the refrigerator to save time and space. He's horrified by the dry, overcooked chicken, and Michael the kitchen manager agrees with him. Things soon slow down, customers start complaining, and Chef Ramsay says that he's never seen such a disorganized kitchen in all his life. And where are Keith and Lisa? Sitting in their car, eating.

Inside, Michael does his best to rally the staff and complete dinner service. Afterward, Chef Ramsay tells Keith and Lisa that they've been abusing their restaurant and, while their staffers are frustrated and upset, the owners simply walk out. It's a joke. Keith admits his passion is "a little down." But Joli says that customers aren't going to care about their business if they don't care.

The next morning, Keith and Lisa get the shock of a lifetime when they find Tavolini boarded up with "closed" and "out of business" signs. Lisa then reads Chef Ramsay a letter that admits she and Keith are guilty of negligence and have let their staff members down and have been in denial. She pleads with him not to give up on them and swears that they're willing to make drastic changes in order to turn things around. Chef Ramsay says that's exactly what he needed to hear. They may not be out of business yet, but they will be if they don't start trying now. Next, an emotional Lisa apologizes to the staff for giving up and thanks them for sticking by them.

That night, Chef Ramsay introduces a family-style menu to help them stand out from the competition. It features a Tuscan bean soup, porchetta with roasted vegetables, and an olive oil cake. He gives the kitchen a lesson on how to best get items out in a timely manner. The family-style menu should help. He also makes another announcement: Both owners will be working tonight - Lisa will wait tables, and Keith will come up with a specialty cocktail and promote it on the floor. He creates a pomegranate bellini.

Lisa and Keith seem to be enjoying their new roles, diners love the family-style specials, and the dinner service seems to be off to a good start. But the customers who ordered from the regular menu are having a completely different experience, with big delays. As the kitchen gets overwhelmed and backed up, Chef Ramsay tells everyone to get a grip. He lets Lisa know that she can't run a restaurant with that many menu items in such a small kitchen. Van feels that Keith and Lisa aren't trying to help customers and are instead "wandering around aimlessly." Keith walks out, while Lisa zones out. Michael, meanwhile, steps up and does his best. As his result, the remaining a la carte orders start hitting the tables, and the dinner service is completed.

Afterward, Chef Ramsay explains that since the family-style items came out so much faster, that's clearly the direction the restaurant needs to go. He then tells them that tomorrow the restaurant is going to relaunch, but Keith and Lisa need to relaunch themselves. If they're not going to do that, they need to close their doors.

Overnight, the restaurant gets a modern, elegant makeover that warms up the dining room with Champagne colors, new dish ware, and textured wall art. The designers have also managed to open up the kitchen, giving the chefs much more room to work. And finally, Chef Ramsay takes everyone outside to see the restaurant's new identity, "Tavolini - Family Style Dining."

He then introduces more new menu items, including pan-roasted branzino and an osso bucco with a veal demi-glace. Everything is available both family style and a la carte.

Relaunch night starts off with a buzz, but Keith stumbles early on when a customer asks him what branzino is . . . and he doesn't know. An hour in, Michael's kitchen is humming and customers are impressed with the appetizers. But soon, dinner service hits a speed bump when the kitchen staff gets tickets mixed up, things slow down, and diners are left waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting for their entrees. Chef Ramsay tells Keith to get it together, and the owner heads back behind the line to try to get the kitchen organized. Whatever he does works. The kitchen manages to recover and customers are content with their meals. Dinner service ends on a high note.

"Tonight we were teetering on disaster, but it's not how you start, it's how you finish a service," Chef Ramsay tells the owners and staff later. "Lisa and Keith, you did a bloody good job. Well done. You all did a good job." He says they've been given a second chance, and he can't do anymore. They need to keep it going.

In the weeks that followed, Keith and Lisa struggled with their new roles as leaders and didn't commit to the restaurant the way Chef Ramsay had hoped they would. Their marriage continued to crumble, and the couple decided to separate. The future of Tavolini is uncertain. The doors are now closed, but will they ever open again.

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