America’s Next Great Restaurant: R.I.P., Soul Daddy

Image: yfrog.com

It is a fact of life in the restaurant biz that failure is an option: a 2003 study indicates a failure rate of around 23%. So, I was not surprised to hear that Soul Daddy, the winner of America’s Next Great Restaurant, was no more.

I was surprised, however, at just how fast it happened.

The first indication something was wrong was on July 7, when I spotted this comment from “uncsig” over on Tubular:

Ran across this piece about the closing of “Soul Daddy” the winning concept in this past Spring’s “America’s Next Great Restaurant.”

http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2011/07/soul_daddy_why_it_failed.php

So, I went out and checked that link, which goes into some detail as to why “America’s Next Great Restaurant” lasted fewer weeks than the show that spawned it.* I also checked out a few articles that post linked to.

Some things I read didn’t surprise me, among them: the original concept (“chickens and waffles”) was morphed into something totally different (“healthy soul food”) at the urgings of the investors/judges;** the food was, at best, awful;*** the TV show was about as dull and lackluster as the on-screen personality of Steve Ellis;**** the chances of failure were increased due to the simultaneous launch of three locations, widely dispersed; and, did I mention that the food was awful?

Other things I read did surprise me: the LA location was hidden away like someone’s crazy aunt; at least one of the locations was allowed to institute menu changes on its own*****; and maybe most surprisingly, winner Jamawn Woods****** was apparently notified of the closings via email.*******

I think that, ultimately, the needs of Reality TV just weren’t compatible with the needs of properly developing, nurturing, and growing a successful restaurant concept. Successful Reality TV needs flash, bling, high-energy, and most of all, MOAR DRAMAZ!  A successful restaurant, OTOH, needs a lot of hard work, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes and make the necessary mid-course corrections, and maybe the most important ingredient of all – plenty of time.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about this unmitigated disaster “grand experiment”: during the series (and even brought up during the season finale), the investors/judges were concerned that Restauranteer Sudhir Kandula (“Spice Coast”) wouldn’t “stay the course” – that he would revert to his modus operandi of starting up a business, then leaving. So, who woulda thunk it, that the investors/judges and backers would be the ones to bail out on the venture, leaving this as its epitaph?

“After careful consideration and a thorough review of its performance, we have decided to close Soul Daddy at the Mall of America. This was a difficult decision for us, as we wanted to see Soul Daddy succeed, but the restaurant simply was not performing as we had hoped. We’d like to thank all of the customers who tried our restaurants and the people who worked hard to try to make the restaurants succeed.

–Soul Daddy Restaurants”

So, if “Soul Daddy” didn’t make it, what will in fact be “America’s Next Great Restaurant”?  For the answer to that question, you will have to look to something other than Reality TV: America’s Next Great Restaurant was not-renewed for another season.


* The restaurant lasted around 7 weeks. The series took 9 weeks to air.
** “Healthy soul food” is not an oxymoron, despite what some might think. However, it takes time, and experience, to re-work well-known comfort foods to healthier alternatives. Unless you happen to enjoy entrees that taste like cardboard.
*** See above.
**** The best commentary on Steve Ellis: “He’s as dull as dry toast.” Hammer, meet head of nail.
***** This is just not done in a well-run chain restaurant, where consistency of product is king. Of course, if your location is the only one left in operation…
****** who was an un“self-employed” caterer before appearing on the show.
******* right after he put in an offer on a house. According to the report, he was to begin a year-long management training assignment in the MoA facility. Hope he was able to withdraw that offer!
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