This week Chef Gordon Ramsay travels to Hampton, Maryland, just outside Baltimore and home to Café Hon. The establishment gets its name from a local term of endearment. As Debbie, the manager, explains, "When you're being friendly, that's what you say . . . Baltimore people love 'hon.' It's their word." Opened by entrepreneur Denise Whiting in 1992, the giant pink flamingo-adorned building quickly became a local landmark.
According to Denise, "Café Hon hugs you when you get here. It's just food, family, and fun." With business doing well, she had decided to capitalize on the city's love affair with the endearment "hon" by trademarking the name of her restaurant as well as the word "hon" itself. But Café Hon server Janet said that Denise's subsequent merchandising blitz of mugs, t-shirts, and knickknacks backfired.
Local radio host Reagan Warfield explains that the restaurateur ticked off locals, who have boycotted the business. Since the controversy began, there's been a decline in business. Even worse, Denise's harsh management style is rubbing her employees the wrong way. She says that there's one way to do things at Café Hon: her way.
Luckily, Chef Ramsay is coming to help, but first he stops by the Mix 106.5 radio station, where he hopes to get a better understanding of why the community has turned its back on the restaurant. There he discovers that Denise's threats to local businesses who wanted to use the word "hon" isn't sitting well with people around town.
Chef Ramsay's first impression of the 60-foot pink flamingo outside Café Hon causes him to exclaim, "Holy mackerel!" Then a teary-eyed Denise tells Chef Ramsay that business is half of what it was last year; to make up the difference, she's completely drained her IRA, sold her house, and put everything into the business. She tells him that she's even felt afraid for her life due to the ill will toward her in the community.
Denise insists that all she did was register the word "hon" and has done nothing else to incite the local outrage, denying that she's threatened to sue anyone. Chef Ramsay calls her on the fact that she's not telling the truth.
Putting local politics aside for the moment, Chef Ramsay turns his attention to the food. He samples the crab-and-shrimp-salad filled Big Bay Club sandwich, the Much Better Than Mom's Meatloaf, and "Bawlmer" fish and chips. The chef can't even fit the Big Bay Club into his mouth, but when he samples the crab he finds it delicious. Unfortunately, the shrimp in the sandwich tastes old and tainted. He thinks the fish is greasy and dry, and he describes the meatloaf as a "flamingo turd."
In the kitchen, Chef Ramsay is shocked to learn that Denise doesn't let the staff season the fries. Head Chef Greg says that he doesn't like to cook the menu's food with Denise's recipes.
At that evening's dinner service, the dining room is full for the first time in a year. Yet the restaurant's owner slows things down in the kitchen when she dons her pink chef's jacket and starts calling the shots. Patrons are rapidly returning entrees, and Denise begins to yank items off the menu, including turkey, steak, catfish, and fries. Server Amanda concedes that this is a common occurrence at Café Hon. As the food choices dwindle, so does the diners' patience.
During a postmortem, Chef Ramsay tells Denise that she comped $800 worth of food. He implores her to go back to basics and establish a clear direction for her restaurant. For his part, he says that he doesn't know where to start.
Prior to her arrival the next day, Chef Ramsay calls a staff meeting. The employees tell him that the place runs smoothly when Denise isn't there, but that she micromanages and focuses on all the wrong areas when she's present. He urges them all to stand up to their boss, but they're afraid that if they speak out, they'll get fired. When they express their feelings, Denise is surprisingly humbled, tearfully telling her team that she appreciates and loves them all.
Next, Chef Ramsay takes Denise and Debbie offsite, where he has them secretly listen in on a focus group of locals. She hears them criticize her for being focused on herself and for making a mockery of the people of Charm City. They tell Chef Ramsay that the only way for Denise to change their perception of her is for her to walk away from the trademark.
She finally admits making a mistake and promises Chef Ramsay that she understands. Still, when he's out of earshot, she says that she doesn't know what she'll do.
Believing that Debbie will change, Chef Ramsay goes ahead with a simple and elegant renovation of Café Hon. He also revamps the menu with hot crab dip, mini shrimp and crab rolls, and Maryland crab cake.
His final step is to take Debbie down to the Mix 106.5 station. She emotionally admits that she misstepped, and she apologizes for her actions. She commits to handing the trademark back and giving the word "hon" back to the citizens of Baltimore.
For the remainder of his stay, Chef Ramsay and his team get in the trenches with the kitchen staff. With the energy restored to the restaurant, patrons return and the business is headed in a positive direction.
A grateful Denise says, "I've been given a great gift and an amazing opportunity, and I will be forever grateful . . . I have my life back. I have my restaurant back." And with that, Chef Ramsay says with a sigh of relief, "Good night, hon.
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