by David Klemt

You Need to Watch Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line Now

by David Klemt

Whether you own, operate, manage, are employed by or have ever spent time at a restaurant as a guest, you need to watch Food Network’s Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line.

Guy Fieri, who has helped raise $24 million (and counting) for restaurant industry workers, executive produced and co-directed the documentary, which aired last night. He tasked skeleton production crews (one would assume given the pandemic) with following four incredible chefs—Marcus Samuelsson, Maneet Chauhan (and her husband Vivek), Christian Petroni, and Antonia Lofaso—and said he wanted them to keep the cameras rolling to capture “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

When the scope of Covid-19 became clearer and the industry began to see how much devastating its impact would be on restaurants, bars and other hospitality venues, Fieri says in the documentary that he had two thoughts: “’No way can this happen,’ and, ‘Oh my god, this is gonna be worse than we ever imagined.’”

He’s angry about what’s happening to the industry and millions of people it employs and feeds.

“I was mad. I’m still mad,” says Fieri in Restaurant Hustle 2020. “Wrecked lives, wrecked families… Changed the history of the industry.”

Per the documentary, Fieri felt compelled to help his “millions of brothers and sisters” in whatever ways possible: “There was no words. It’s coming. Prepare. Stick together. What can we do?”

The documentary begins with three indisputable facts that speak volumes to the importance of the industry: The restaurant industry employs over 15 million people. That equals up to 20 percent of America’s workforce. The industry generates over $850 billion in sales.

From there, Restaurant Hustle 2020 introduces the four chefs, their restaurants, their challenges, and their collective hustle. Like so many in this industry, there’s no giving up in these people—there’s only fight.

Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Seeking community after 9/11, Chef Samuelsson opened the Harlem location of Red Rooster in 2010. That location employed 180 people—Chef Samuelsson had 30 venues located in eight countries when Covid-19 hit. Pre-pandemic, Red Rooster in Harlem would see around 1,100 guests on a Saturday night, and Chef Samuelson was just a week out from opening the doors of Red Rooster in Miami.

“It’s taken me 25 years to build this moment, but it took ten days to tear it all down. I don’t wish it on my worst enemy,” says Chef Samuelsson.

Chef Maneet Chauhan

Chef Chauhan and her husband Vivek operate four restaurants and three breweries within the Morph Hospitality Group portfolio in Nashville, Tennessee. At their peak, they served 2,500 guests over the course of a weekend. Morph employed nearly 300 people but by March they made the heart-wrenching decision to close their doors. Recalling the difficult choice, Chef Chauhan is brought to tears talking about how gracious her employees were about it.

However, Chef Chauhan and husband Vivek are willing to fight for their dreams and their employees: “The thing is, we are scrappy. We are immigrants,” she says.

Vivek focused on developing and strategizing reopening plans, and the duo fully embody the meaning of the Hindi word “jugaad,” or “a flexible approach to a problem.” While it only represented maybe a tenth of their regular sales, Morph implemented curbside pickup at three of their venues. They rotated availability offering curbside at a different location on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This allowed them to bring back a handful of employees.

Chef Christian Petroni

There are five locations of Chef Petroni‘s Italian restaurant concept Fortina throughout New York’s tri-state area: Armonk, Brooklyn, Rye Brook, Stamford, and Yonkers. Heading into 2020, they were set to have another amazing year after doing very well in 2019.

“We were just gearing up to take over the world,” says Chef Petroni.

The first Covid-19 death in the United States was reported on February 28 in King County in Washington State. As we know, on March 16, 2020, NYC shut down around 27,000 restaurants, resulting in the loss of 225,000 jobs. Chef Petroni employed nearly 300 people but had to reduce his workforce to less than twenty. To help the communities they serve and generate some revenue, Chef Lofaso created Pies for the People so customers were able to buy pies for those in need or who needed a morale boost (such as hospital workers and EMTs).

Chef Antonia Lofaso

Over the course of a decade, Chef Lofaso has built and operated three restaurant concepts in Los Angeles, California. Her restaurants employed almost 500 people and back in February, serving 1,200 guests over the course of just two weekend evenings was common. Chef Lofaso’s biggest passion is the hospitality aspect of restaurant operation and being “the facilitator of the good time.” That good time came crashing down in March.

“It’s taken me ten years to build these three restaurants and it took a matter of a week for it all to be torn down,” says Chef Lofaso.

She admits to feeling sadness and anger, in large part because she had to lay off nearly 500 employees. Chef Lofaso says that she feels responsible to her team members because they help her build her dream. By March she was able to bring back roughly 20 workers, convert her locations into markets, and sell liquor, which allowed her to bring back 90 percent of her back-of-house employees for at least two days per week and double sales.

For the rest of the story, people will have to watch Restaurant Hustle 2020. The importance of Food Network, Guy Fieri and these chefs capturing this crucial moment in history cannot be overstated.

As Fieri says in the documentary, it’s “a historical moment in time in an industry that is so important to all of us in so many ways, shapes and forms, and these four very brave chef-restaurant owners captured it. Something you’ve never seen. Something you’ll probably never see again.”

As we move forward into 2021, it’s crucial we remember that this story is still unfolding—we don’t know what the new year holds for this or any industry. We know that without targeted aid, the lives of millions of Americans are in jeopardy. We know that even with vaccines available, we’re not out of harm’s way yet.

We don’t know what the industry will look like when the world returns to “normal,” whatever that may be. But we know this industry is made up of fighters and we look out for our own. We’ll get through this together.

Food Network is available via several streaming platforms, including Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV.

Photo by Shangyou Shi on Unsplash