During a conference call for Restaurant Startup, the new CNBC show featuring Fort Worth’s Tim Love and MasterChef’s Joe Bastianich, a reporter asked the chefs about their favorite type of restaurants. Both had a quick response.
“My favorite kind of restaurant is the kind of restaurant that makes money,” Bastianich said.
“That’s my kind, too, by the way,” Love added, before getting more directly to the question: “ ‘A favorite restaurant’ is kind of a weird, great question because really it really depends on, you know, mood, and that’s why there are so many people that could be successful in the business.”
The business comes up a lot in Restaurant Startup, in which aspiring restaurateurs seek investment dollars from Love — the man behind Fort Worth’s Lonesome Dove Western Bistro and Woodshed Smokehouse, Denton’s Queenie’s Smokehouse and other establishments — and Bastianich, known for his work with such restaurants as New York’s Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca.
As investors, Love and Bastianich might decide to go in on a restaurant together, or one might opt out, or they may both decline to support a restaurant idea. But they’re investing their own money.
“Everything that we do on that show is real on our end, because we’re making a decision on whether or not we’re going to spend my family’s money,” Love said. “I remember I told my wife I was in this show, she’s like, ‘So you mean we’re spending our money?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, it’s our money but hopefully we’re going to get, you know, two or three times of it back, but that’s based on the right decisions.’ ”
Love and Bastianich both say they could have benefited from a show like this when they were coming up.
“When I got started, nobody would invest in me, so I had to use all my own money and build my own restaurant, which is kind of like what the show is,” Love said. “When I got started with Lonesome Dove, [my wife] Emilie and I had about $65,000 to $70,000 of our money that we saved and we had to build every wall in there.”
Bastianich had an investor when he and his mother, chef Lidia Bastianich, opened Becco in New York in 1992 — his grandmother, who gave him $80,000 to open his first restaurant.
“I think that people lose sight; in the last 25 years, restaurants have become very sensationalized by media and the advent of cooking on television — first cooking shows, and then food reality shows,” Bastianich said. “[My first restaurant] was a nuts-and-bolts business. It was doing everything from getting up in the morning to shopping to creating the menu to hiring the cooks to feeding the people. And I think that that’s what the show, a little bit, illustrates.”
In the first episode, a Portland, Ore., concept called Ramy’s Falafel Fusion competes with Kraken Congee, three line cooks from Seattle pushing versions of an Asian rice dish. Not to spoil too much, but things are a little different from when Love and Bastianich were starting out — the winning team has only 36 hours to do a pop-up restaurant to show diners, as well as Love and Bastianich, what they’re capable of.
The stars stress that this is a business competition, not a cooking competition, but the premiere has familiar reality-TV elements: Pressure builds. Words are exchanged. Tears flow. (Although they might not flow as much in later episodes: “Those guys cried more than anybody I’ve ever seen cry in my life, to be honest with you,” Love said.)
The wannabe restaurateurs get help from Waylynn Lucas, an L.A.-based pastry chef and culinary consultant who appeared on Bravo’s Eat, Drink, Love. Lucas, who was not on the conference call, plays an integral part in the show, Love said.
“We give Waylynn some tasks to make sure that [the aspiring restaurateurs are] doing what we want them to do and moving forward,” Love said. “So over the next 36 hours, Waylynn is with them the entire time. So she knows the ins and outs of everything they go through and what they go through. So that allows Joe and I to step back, let them do what they’re supposed to do.”
Love and Bastianich both say that doing the show is more difficult than it looks — especially because they’re spending their own money. The food has to be good, but that’s just the first step, and after that, there are a lot of variables, which can turn a quick decision on whether to invest into a challenge.
“We’re at the deal table and we’re going back and forth and the producer’s in our earbud going, ‘OK, we’re good. Let’s wrap it up,’ ” Love says. “And both Joe and I almost at the exact same time are like, ‘No, we need another hour with this. We’re not sure yet, we’re not done yet.’ ... When you’re investing $150,000, $300,000, $500,000 in something, it’s no joke. [Not only] are we making somebody’s dream come true, but I could also crush my own dream by handing off the wrong money.”