Mill Street Bistro Before Kitchen Nightmares
When Gordon Ramsay and the Kitchen Nightmares crew visited the Mill Street Bistro in 2013, it resulted in one of his most frustrating experiences on the show, but it also produced what has been called one of the finest reality TV episodes ever made.
The Mill Street Bistro was located in rural Norwalk, Ohio, but owner Joe Nagy believed that his fine dining restaurant produced exceptional food that was far too good for the locals. The prices were certainly out of place in the quiet community, with an evening out for two at Mill Street Bistro guaranteed to cost a minimum of $100.
Joe’s belief that his bistro was the best restaurant from New York to Los Angeles wasn’t shared by his staff, with server Amy describing the food as mediocre at best. Chef Tom revealed that many of the menu items were frozen, and many of the steaks were purchased wholesale. It was clear that Joe and his staff saw the Mill Street Bistro differently, and Joe was clearly unwilling to change his opinion about anything. His staff was obviously uneasy about speaking out against him, but eventually server Rebecca admitted that she thought Joe was an ‘Arrogant jerk’.
Gordon’s visit to the Mill Street Bistro was going to result in a colossal battle of wills, but could he sort out the problems at the struggling restaurant, and change the attitude of the headstrong owner, Joe?
Mill Street Bistro On Kitchen Nightmares
Gordon’s first meeting with Joe is the friendliest one of all. He meets Joe at his farm, where Joe explains about his extensive training with some of Europe’s finest ‘Old school’ chefs, and shows Gordon his elks and his pet goat Skinny, that he treats like a beloved family dog. He tells Gordon that after retiring from a successful career in sales eight years previously, he had bought the farm, and then moved into the restaurant business three years later. But he’s struggling with the Mill Street Bistro and failing to attract enough customers to stay in business.
Gordon visits the bistro later that day, and for once he’s full of praise about the look of the place. He calls the décor ‘Gorgeous’, but from that point on things begin to go downhill. Firstly Gordon objects to the name tag that his server Amy is wearing, ‘It’s not a chain’ he remarks, and encourages her to take it off. Gordon then discovers that the house has no specials, instead, it has ‘features’, ‘You’re not a movie house’ he points out to server Bill, before taking his name tag as well. Soon Gordon has removed name tags from all the staff, and he orders his meal, although not before remarking on the expensive prices.
While waiting, Gordon asks Bill what’s wrong with the Bistro. The server hesitantly reveals that Joe thinks the place is too good for the locals, he doesn’t attempt to win their custom, and he’s too arrogant. Amy adds that Joe treats guests who complain badly, and won’t take any criticism of his food from staff or customers.
Gordon soon finds plenty to criticise about the food on offer. His first course is a French onion soup, but Gordon thinks it’s watery, greasy and full of fat. He sends the soup back after only a mouthful and begins sampling his next dish, the oysters Rockefeller. In the meantime, Joe has now heard Gordon’s complaints about the soup and decides to speak to him to find out exactly what the problem with it was. He arrives at Gordon’s table just in time to hear that the oysters are bitter, and have been drenched in too much oil. Joe doesn’t take the criticism well, he retreats back to the kitchen to make sure the next course is perfect, but Gordon’s dining experience at the Mill Street Bistro just continues to go from bad to worse.
The next dish is scallops en crout, but Gordon doesn’t think this dish is fine dining either, he describes the scallops as ‘Slimy’, ‘Gooey’ and tough ‘Like rubber bullets’, the pastry is the only part of the dish that isn’t overcooked, but unfortunately that’s just raw.
Gordon’s assessment of the vegetarian ravioli is shorter but just as brutal. He discovers it is ice cold and calls it ‘Disgusting’ and ‘A joke’, but he isn’t finding it funny, and neither is Joe, he’s fuming that Gordon is even complaining about his micro-carrot garnishes.
Gordon samples the ‘Catch of the Day’, hoping for some fresh fish, but his delicate palate soon detects that it’s frozen not fresh, as well as dry, rubbery and ‘Full of grease’. The finale is Joe’s favorite dish, the elk medallions, but Gordon finds them ‘Tough as old boots’. Joe thinks they’re characteristically tender, and that Gordon doesn’t know the bite of an elk, and soon tempers are getting frayed.
Gordon and Joe begin discussing the food, but Joe will not take any criticism of it, instead choosing to deflect the questions. As both men begin shouting and swearing the bleeping increases, and soon Gordon is calling Joe ignorant, and in denial about the quality of the food. Later that day Joe is complaining to the staff about the earlier argument while customers wait to get a table for dinner.
Round two comes that evening. Things begin quietly, mainly because Joe has a ‘Quiet’ sign in the kitchen, as he doesn’t like staff talking. ‘How do you communicate?’ asks Gordon. Soon Joe is defending himself against a barrage of complaints from customers about the food. The meals are leaving the kitchen quickly, but many diners find they don’t taste good, one even calls his meal ‘Gross’.
Gordon and Joe almost come to blows as they embark on another blazing row in the kitchen. Gordon rebukes Joe for freezing oysters, ‘That’s the worse thing you can do’ he shouts, and eventually calls Joe a ‘Fake’ and ‘Deluded’. He tells Joe that he’s just showing off. The swearing and beeping reach a dramatic climax at the end of the first episode, and we’re left wondering how Gordon will ever be able to convince Joe to change his ways.
In part two of Kitchen Nightmares at Mill Street Bistro, Gordon’s frustration at Joe reaches boiling point. He eventually decides to meet the staff without Joe there, to find out what the biggest problems are. The list of complaints from them are wide and varied, but they all center around Joe. They tell Gordon that Joe loses his temper a lot and frequently shouts at them all, often in front of customers. They also reveal that Joe will spend time talking to customers while they’re eating, but it’s always a conversation about himself, and as a result, some customers won’t come in if they see Joe’s vehicle in the parking lot.
Gordon reveals that Joe has been listening in to the conversation, and several of the staff look horrified, convinced that they’re about to get fired, but Joe comes in and seems to have taken the criticism on board for once. Joe says he takes responsibility for the problems and admits he needs to change. ‘We all need to change’ he adds, and the staff seems less convinced by his change in attitude.
Next Gordon tackles the high prices. He purchases $100 worth of food from a local store and shows that the average price of a meal for two at Mill Street will buy a weeks worth of good food for a couple. Having convinced Joe to introduce cheaper menu items, he suggests a house burger, which Joe then claims the staff didn’t want. Suspecting that Joe has never listened to feedback from his staff Gordon asks them if that’s true, and it isn’t. Gordon tells Joe ‘Every time I hear your bull I’m calling you out on it’, and Gordon shows his burger recipe to Joe and chef Tom.
Later that night Gordon takes down the ‘Quiet’ sign in the kitchen and tells the staff ‘You’re allowed to talk’. He watches as Joe keeps forgetting ingredients in the new house burger in frustration, and repeatedly reminds him of the order of the ingredients. Joe also messes up some orders, and once again the tension rises as Gordon repeatedly asks Joe what’s going on. Eventually, Joe ignores Gordon before they once again descend into a bleep-filled and heated argument.
Things reach a crescendo when Gordon throws Joe out of the kitchen so that he and Tom can repair the ‘Carnage’ caused by Joe, who is now busy in the dining room complaining to customers about Gordon. Gordon and Tom end the night on a strong note, and when tempers have cooled Gordon gets Joe to agree to stay out of the kitchen, where he causes chaos, and instead to concentrate on managing the business instead.
As the décor is the one thing that Gordon approves of at the Mill Street Bistro, there’s no need for an overnight make-over, so instead Gordon stays in the kitchen late that night designing an entirely new menu, filled with fresher, more reasonably priced items that are more suitable bistro dishes. Gone are the tough elk medallions, now replaced by elk chili, and gone are the pretentious overpriced dishes that were turning the locals off of the restaurant.
As Joe has agreed to stay out of the kitchen, Gordon brings in a new consulting chef, Brian, who is head chef at one of Cleveland’s most popular restaurants. Brian will help out at Mill Street, and train up a new chef to replace Joe once the Kitchen Nightmares team has gone, and Joe for once seems overwhelmingly positive about all the new arrangements Gordon has introduced.
The relaunch of the Mill Street Bistro that evening goes smoothly with Brian in control in the kitchen. There’s only one mistake all night, and that’s made by Joe who manages to take a meal to the wrong table, but overall the night is judged a success. Gordon leaves Norwalk, Ohio hoping that Joe can continue to improve his relations with his staff, and his customers, and keep things running so smoothly.
Mill Street Bistro Now in 2018 – The After Kitchen Nightmares Update
After filming had finished the Mill Street Bistro went through some dramatic changes. Within a few months many of the staff featured in the program were no longer working at the bistro, including chef Tom, and as a result, Joe was back in the kitchen acting as the head chef. Unsurprisingly the old problems at the bistro soon resurfaced, with many one-star reviews appearing on Yelp and Tripadvisor, most of which complained bitterly about the low standard of the food on offer.
In December 2013 Joe relaunched his business as Maple City Tavern, but the new beginning suffered from many of the same problems, and a large number of one-star reviews soon appeared on Yelp, many of which complained about Joe’s behavior in the restaurant. In January 2014 Joe became involved in a legal dispute with the Kitchen Nightmares production company when some items were found to be missing after filming was completed., Eventually the Kitchen Nightmares production company agreed to pay $900 compensation to Joe.
The new branding failed to save Joe’s business, and in June 2015 the Maple City Tavern finally closed it’s doors for good, with the land and building all being sold by Joe after the restaurant had suffered from almost unanimously negative reviews, and continuing financial problems.