These stories prove that opening a restaurant is hard, even if you’re a rich and famous chef
Celebrity chefs are good at many things — posing for selfies, autographing cookbooks, complimenting each other on Instagram, etc. — but running restaurants is not one of them.
Although it seems that Food Network stars and their major network colleagues have no problem scoring lucrative restaurant deals, many of these projects fizzle out fast due to some combination of poor management, bad reviews, overspending on the build-out, and lack of involvement from the star chefs after the doors swing open. Of course, there are some obvious exceptions here: Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Colicchio, and Giada De Laurentiis all seem to have the golden touch when it comes to opening restaurants that stick around for a while. But for every Craft or Emeril’s, there are at least a few Fuscos and Fat Cows that crash and burn faster than you can say “Let’s kick it up a notch!”
With that in mind, here’s a look back at nine restaurants from extremely famous TV chefs that bellyflopped, big time.
Phil and Anne’s Good Time Lounge
Celebrity chef: Anne Burrell
Duration: 11 months
The gist: After a nine-year hiatus from the restaurant industry, Tintin-haired Worst Cooks in America host Anne Burrell decided to team up with a bar owner friend Phil Casaceli on a Brooklyn bistro with metallic orange wallpaper and menu of “Mediterranean cuisine with Italian influences” that also, bafflingly, included a cheeseburger, Cheetos-crusted fried pickles, and a riff on pigs in a blanket called “hogs in hoodies.” While some of the food wasn’t bad, the restaurant struggled to find an audience, and didn’t make it past the one-year mark. Apparently, the good times between Phil and Anne didn’t last for very long, either: Casaceli claims that six months after opening, Burrell sent him a text about closing that read, “I will be fine. You will still always be the miserable fuck that you are.”
Waxman’s + J Bird
Celebrity chef: Jonathan Waxman
City: San Francisco
Duration: 18 months, one month
The gist: Although Jonathan Waxman, a former Top Chef Master and frequent visitor to Guy’s Ranch Kitchen, is regarded as one of the pioneers of California Cuisine, Waxman’s was actually the chef’s first-ever San Francisco restaurant.
This Cal-Itala behemoth on tourist-friendly Ghirardelli Square failed to impress the locals, including the SF Chronicle’s old softee Michael Bauer, who wrote, “Too many dishes repeat the same formula — thick purees and raw greens with cooked proteins — and the results end up tasting one-dimensional.” Seventeen months into its run, Waxman decided to turn part of the space into a fast-casual restaurant selling the chef’s signature dish — roast chicken — but even this move couldn’t save this doomed endeavor: Both Waxman’s and J Bird shuttered for good one month later.
On the bright side, at least this project didn’t become a critical punching bag like Waxman’s much-hyped reboot of his ’80s hit, Jams.
Scott Conant’s Post-2016 Italian Collection
Celebrity chef: Scott Conant
Cities: NYC, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas
Durations: One year to 18 months
The gist: Most houseplants live longer than Scott Conant restaurants. The Chopped judge lands on this list not for one super flop, but a string of them — all with interchangeable menus of city slicker Italian food — over the last three years: Masso (Las Vegas, February 2018 to May 2019), Fusco (NYC, April 2017 to August 2018), Ponte (LA, February 2017 to December 2018), and Imperro Cafe (NYC April 2016 to July 2017).
While Conant’s 2016 to 2019 run is impressive even by super flop standards, no closure will ever sting quite as much as Faustina, a hotel restaurant that the chef opened at the apex of his culinary career in February 2010 and closed before the end of that year.
Rotisserie & Wine
Celebrity chef: Tyler Florence
Duration: One year
The gist: No true celebrity chef/restaurateur can resist the siren song of California’s Napa Valley, a wine region that is heavily trafficked by gastro-tourists during much of the year.
In late 2010, Great Food Truck Race host Tyler Florence decided to take a crack at Napa cash grab with the opening of this culinary marketplace/wine bar/rotisserie. Although the restaurant occupied a prime slice of real estate, and boasted a menu created with the help of San Francisco hot shot Jeremy Fox, the tourist hordes never quite materialized. Florence decided to close up shop one year in, with vague plans for a revamp that never actually happened.
After TyFlo was officially out for good, Mike DiSimoni, the developer of the space, told a local paper, “I think he had the concept that could have worked, but he didn’t stick with it long enough.”
Tribeca Canvas + Bisuturo
Celebrity Chef: Masaharu Morimoto
Duration: Nine months, three months
The gist: In 2014, Morimoto — a chef whose love of sushi is rivaled only by his passion for karaoke — turned a windowless, subterranean lair into his first (and last) attempt at an “American comfort food” restaurant with strong enchanted forest vibes. The result was easily the worst-reviewed New York restaurant since Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar.
New York Post curmudgeon Steve Cuozzo singled out the “kurobuta corn dogs” and “duck duck cous” as clunkers on the menu, as well as Morimoto’s mac and cheese, which the critic described as “limp elbows and four unidentifiable cheeses in a somnolent alloy that a bread-crumb sprinkling failed to arouse.” Morimoto closed the restaurant that summer and briefly reopened it as an Asian-inspired bistro with clubby decor called Bisuturo, but the redo lasted less than three months.
After hearing the news, Cuozzo tweeted, “Yes! Morimoto quits Bisutoro, causing it to close before critics waste time there hoping to be kinder than we were about Tribeca Canvas.”
Celebrity chef: Jose Garces
Duration: Just shy of two years
The gist: In 2016, Iron Chef champ Jose Garces hatched a questionable plan to recoup some of the losses from his Philadelphia empire by bringing one of his most popular restaurants, Amada, to New York City.
The chef found a massive space in Battery Park City and carved it up into a main dining room, a cocktail bar, a tapas bar, a chef’s counter, and several private dining nooks. Although Amada NYC had all the trappings of a buzzy opening — acclaimed out-of-town chef, prime real estate, design by AvroKo, etc. — the critics and diners just didn’t care about this one. Garces shuttered Amada NYC a month before its second birthday amidst a flurry of lawsuits from investors waiting for the chef to pay them back (one pair of backers even referred to his operation as a “Ponzi scheme”).
Celebrity chef: Gordon Ramsay
City: Los Angeles
Duration: 18 months
The gist: Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant portfolio includes everything from fine dining gems to casino gastropubs to culturally-insensitive Asian clubstaurants, and yet somehow, the overextended chef manages to keep them open and busy. But Fat Cow, Ramsay’s admittedly stylish restaurant in LA’s most popular shopping center — the Grove — is the one that got away from the shouty chef.
In the pages of LA Weekly, critic Besha Rodell wrote that the branzino ceviche was “so besmirched by dollops of goo both green (avocado?) and yellow (horseradish?), it looked like a science experiment gone wrong.” The critic also complained that the batter on the fish and chips was “thick and doughy and more like something you’d find surrounding your deep-fried Twinkie at a sketchy carnival than the work of a kitchen headed by a world-famous chef.” Aside from this memorably bad review, Ramsay had bigger problems on his hands: the Fat Cow’s employees filed a class action lawsuit over unpaid wages, and the chef’s contractors sued him over an outstanding tab from the build-out.
Bafflingly, when Ramsay’s camp did decide to announce a plan to close up shop the team explained that “another restaurant bearing the same name is threatening Gordo’s place to change its name… or close.”
Celebrity chef: Cat Cora
Location: New York City
Duration: Seven months
The gist: Not content with merely opening a string of airport bars and college cafeteria salad counters, Iron Chef Cat Cora decided to tap into her Southern roots with the opening this chicken and biscuits restaurant in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.
On an early visit, Eater NY critic Robert Sietsema encountered “flavorless” fried chicken, “repulsive” barbecued oysters, and a mint julep made with salt instead of sugar. This colossal misfire of a meal prompted Sietsema to wonder, “Do New Yorkers or even New York visitors want a menu so heavy with frankly stupid drinks served in jars?” The answer, apparently, was no: Cora shuttered Fatbird after seven months, and sued her business partner for reneging on a promised consulting fee, a move that would net her more than $550,000.
Celebrity chef: Jamie Oliver
Duration: One year
The gist: If Jamie Oliver’s career was Goodfellas, the opening of Barbecoa Piccadilly would be the part where the helicopter begins following him and Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire” starts playing on the radio.
Oliver shuttered six of his other restaurants in January 2017, the same month that he opened this second location of his hit London steakhouse. In the fall, the chef announced plans to fold his magazine and close a 340-seat location of another Italian restaurant amidst management departures at his hospitality group. By winter 2018, Oliver’s restaurant group appeared to be in free-fall: The chef closed 12 more Italian restaurants along with his year barely one-year-old steakhouse.
Since the shuttering of Barbacoa Piccadilly, Oliver sold or closed the rest of his UK restaurants, while also striking up a spokesperson deal with a grocery store chain and a consulting gig with Shell gas stations. “If you’re not bendy like this pasta, then you break,” Oliver told the New York Times last month. “And that’s what happened.”
(Dis)honorable mentions: Goefrey Zakarian’s pretty, but forgettable Hollywood brasserie Georgie (it lasted two years); Amanda Freitag’s briefly buzzworthy Empire Diner reboot in NYC (less than two years); and Carla Hall’s well-received, but ultimately ill-fated Brooklyn restaurant Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen (a year and change).
And a note about Guy Fieri …
If you’ve made it this far down this list, you’re probably wondering: Where the hell is Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant? The answer is simple: Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar isn’t on here because it wasn’t really a flop. Although the restaurant received the most famous bad review in the history of food criticism, Fieri’s Broadway baby kept chugging along for another five whole years — that’s twice as long as any of the restaurants on this list. What’s more, Guido (as he calls himself) has since opened spinoffs of this very same restaurant in eight other cities around the world. The moral of the story: Never bet against the Mayor of Flavortown.