Blackberry’s Before Kitchen Nightmares
Plainfield, New Jersey is a middle-class city with a strong sense of community. Smack in the middle of town is a restaurant called Blackberry’s. Run by a once-successful caterer named Shelly Withers, Blackberry is not as relevant anymore. Her catering business was fantastic, and she had such a tremendous following. Things seemed natural that she would move on to open a restaurant. Her mother, Mary, invested her retirement fund into Blackberry’s so Shelly’s dream could come true. Mary thinks that it is a parent’s responsibility to be supportive of their children.
Shelly is so happy with the way the restaurant turned out – the decor is phenomenal, and Blackberry’s has the best soul food in town, no doubt. She doesn’t know what she’s doing wrong, however. It’s in a perfect location and with perfect food, so where are the customers? The sous chef says that Shelly is in denial, which is where the problem starts. She thinks the decor is amazing and the food tastes spectacular. The food is suffering, the customers are suffering, and the restaurant is suffering. Shelly believes that all of her food is better than any chef’s out there.
She also feels that if this is the way she wants it, then it doesn’t matter. It’s her restaurant, so it’s her way. She is also a super control, “to the 110th power” according to sous chef Mateen. There’s no system, there are 16 people working in the kitchen and 16 people working their own system. Food often gets lost in delivery, and Shelly thinks she knows what she’s doing but she really has no idea. That brings a lot of chaos to the kitchen at Blackberry’s. Even worse, Shelly is helping the restaurant to fail even more.
Things are bad. Shelly is $200,000 in debt, and she’s barely holding on. She has less than $20 to her name at the time of filming. Mary has told Shelly that if the restaurant fails, she won’t be the only one impacted since Mary has invested her life’s savings into the business. She has sacrificed a lot to make sure that the doors did not close. However, she believes in the power of prayer, and that Gordon Ramsay is the answer to their prayers.
Blackberry’s on Kitchen Nightmares
With that said, Gordon arrives at Blackberry’s and mentions that it is a quaint little “buzzy” town. The restaurant is in a great location, and so he enters. Gordon glances around at the decor before asking if someone is having a party. Surely enough, the interior of Blackberry’s is clad in purple and gold all throughout, with tacky record and music symbol props hanging throughout the room. No party, the hostess says, as they’re just having lunch. Gordon is shown to his table and introduced to James, who is a general manager. Gordon jokes that James can’t be a general manager with a baby face like his, although James is 30 years old.
Gordon also meets Mary, who is responsible for cakes, pies, and the desserts. In short, she is the baker. In the kitchen, Shelly announces that Gordon is finally here. James already looks uncomfortable. At his seat, Gordon meets his waiter and remarks that he is very busy. The waiter replies that he has to be, as someone has to get things done. The waiter has been at Blackberry’s for three years, and Gordon asked who designed the place. He feels like any minute, Donna Summers will burst through the doors. Of course, Shelly approaches and says that she is the one to design the restaurant.
Shelly says that she loves the decor and the dance party theme. It suits her for who she is. Finally, Gordon Ramsay meets Shelly. Shelly remarks that she would have to ask her fiance if she can kiss him… who turns out to be James, and is likely far younger than Shelly. Gordon calls James over and scolds him for not telling him that he was dating the owner. James says that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Gordon finally sits down and scans the menu before placing an order.
Gordon says that he wants to order as much as he can, so he starts with the collard greens, a soul food staple. He also orders the smothered pork chop, the mac and cheese, the chitlins and red velvet cake for dessert. In the back, the kitchen gets things started. Shelly is prepared for Gordon Ramsay to comment that the food is excellent. Things hit a snag when one of the chefs says that the mac and cheese is not hot, although Shelly replies to “just microwave it.” So, Gordon Ramsay will be eating microwaved mac and cheese.
While his food is being prepared, Gordon explores around the restaurant and comments on the number of records. He slides into a booth and pulls a record off, revealing a gigantic hole behind the record. James comes up and later comments that he’s shocked to find a hole in the wall with a record over it. Finally, Gordon’s food begins to arrive. The mac and cheese smothered pork chop arrive at the same time. Gordon looks repulsed already, although he digs in regardless. He says that it looks like someone crapped on his plate, and the pork chop is dry. Nothing is seasoned, and it tastes bland.
Gordon then asks if the mac and cheese is heated in a microwave, although his waiter tells him that it was cooked in the oven. The collard greens are the next item to come out. Gordon digs in, but the collard greens are also bland. There’s no seasoning, so they are fried, soggy, and limp. James insists if Gordon eats it all together, then it’ll taste great. The collard greens also get sent back to the kitchen, and Shelly is starting to stress. The chitlins are the last main course item to come out. Gordon digs into the chitlins and okra, although he is hesitant.
Chitlins are the intestine, but are they supposed to smell this bad? The chitlins and okra are vile, and he immediately has to stop himself from vomiting. He heads to the toilet to vomit the food out. Shelly can only laugh in response to this, and it’s clear that Gordon has his work cut out for him.
Blackberry’s After Kitchen Nightmares – 2023 Update
The episode featuring Blackberry’s aired in 2011 and the issues highlighted were all too common in the restaurant industry – inconsistent food quality, poor management, and a disengaged staff.
Ramsay, known for his blunt criticisms and dramatic methods, did not hold back. He revamped the menu, retrained the staff, and gave the restaurant a much-needed makeover. The episode ended on a high note with customers praising the improved food and ambiance. It seemed like Blackberry’s was finally on the path to success.
However, the reality of Blackberry’s after Kitchen Nightmares was far from this initial optimism. Despite Ramsay’s intervention and the temporary boost in business post-show, Blackberry’s couldn’t maintain its momentum.
Customer reviews started to drop again, with many citing poor food quality and service. The staff turnover rate remained high and management issues persisted. It seemed like the deep-rooted problems of the restaurant were too ingrained to be fixed by a single intervention.
By 2013, two years after their appearance on Kitchen Nightmares, Blackberry’s had closed its doors permanently.
The story of Blackberry’s is a cautionary tale for many struggling businesses. It underscores the importance of consistent quality, good management, and engaged staff in running a successful restaurant. And while external help like Kitchen Nightmares can provide temporary relief and publicity, it is ultimately up to the business to apply these lessons long-term and make lasting changes.