Lela’s Before Kitchen Nightmares
Lela’s in Pomona, California was a fine-dining establishment with some serious problems when Gordon Ramsay visited it in Season one of Kitchen Nightmares back in 2007. Owner Lela Guillen had pumped her life savings and retirement fund into the business and it had only been open for eight months, but already she was losing money day after day and now there was nothing left, she needed the help of Gordon to turn her nightmare back into a dream.
Lela’s boasts an exciting menu and an executive chef, and there’s a buzz about the place, but it isn’t a good kind of buzz. The restaurant is situated downtown, the locals prefer to eat somewhere less expensive and as a result trade is slow, dreadfully slow. Executive chef Ricky is ‘Straight out of the hood’ so we’re told and when he and waitress Tabitha interact it does resemble some kind of gang warfare. The two co-workers can’t communicate without arguing and the buzz about Lela’s comes in the form of prep chef Buzz, or Buzzard to give him his full nickname. Buzzard is perpetually eating in the kitchen, he’s known for it, but Buzzard still looks like he could do with a good meal. Maybe Buzzard just has a really high metabolism, or he expends too many calories stopping Tabitha and Ricky from fighting when things get too heated. Either way Lela’s is at a make or break point, and Gordon’s ready to tackle the situation. But has the wrinkle-foreheaded King of the kitchen bitten off more than he can chew this time? Read on to find out.
Lela’s On Kitchen Nightmares
Downtown Pamona is quiet, Gordon thinks it’s like a ‘Ghost town’ when he arrives and he describes Lela’s as ‘Looking derelict’ due to the lack of any customers, but he doesn’t criticize the look of the place for once, Lela’s is clean and well-maintained. The Menu is not so pleasing for the angry one as it’s littered with spelling errors, and when he finally establishes what it is that’s available to order he’s surprised to learn from an ever-increasingly flustered Tabitha that there’s a lot of items that aren’t available, even though they are on the menu, usually spelled incorrectly.
Eventually Gordon finds a dish that is available, but his fresh tomato soup is canned, and he knows it. ‘I though this was fine dining?’ he asks Tabitha, ‘So did I’ she replies. When Gordon gets his nachos he asks about the shouting he can hear, and then learns it’s the executive chef Ricky, ‘An executive chef that can’t make tomato soup?’, he says as if he’s just discovered an unknown species living under a rock. Gordon’s advanced palate detects the nachos are a day old, and he moves on to his rack of lamb with a chocolate mint sauce. It arrives so quickly that Gordon is pleasantly surprised, but then he notices that there’s more bone than lamb on his rack of lamb and the wrinkles quickly reappear on his forehead. After ordering dessert, still hungry and beginning to rant about the lack of fresh food on the menu, Gordon’s forehead resembles a roadmap.
After his lunch, or lack of it, Gordon and Ricky go head-to-head in the kitchen. Ricky’s not going to take any abuse from Gordon, and defends the lamb that was mostly bone. ‘No-one else complained about it’ he offers, ‘There was no-one else here’ replies Gordon. Gordon can’t believe an executive chef would rely so much on frozen food and suggests Ricky’s lazy, who’s left explaining that he and Gordon are going to be ‘Butting heads’ real soon. Gordon returns the following day for an inspection of Lela’s kitchen. The place looks nice and bright but soon Gordon’s digging out a few erroneous items and declaring them to be something that we can’t hear through all the bleeping, his facial expressions clearly indicate that we should be glad that smelly-vision isn’t a thing. The kitchen staff are given instructions to clean everything along with big buckets of soapy water, and even the waitresses are given the task of washing down every surface in the dining room.
With everyone in action Gordon takes a trip into the neighborhood to see what the area’s like. He quickly discovers the Pamona artists colony is young, vibrant and diverse, and also not really a fine-dining type of area. Most of the locals he meets are young, and usually eating on the type of budget that doesn’t allow for $27 racks of lamb with chocolate mint sauce at lunchtime, instead they’re usually hitting the local pizza place or a Mexican restaurant. Gordon returns to the restaurant, where he’s impressed with the new level of cleanliness, but there’s a surprise in store for one of the staff, and it isn’t anywhere near as pleasant.
That night a sudden influx of theater-goers sees the restaurant packed for once. The staff struggle to cope, many items are off the menu causing fireworks between Ricky and Tabitha that would be worthy of any centennial celebration. Buzzard buzzes off early and Gordon finds him down the street, with his ‘bag of goodies’. A few bags of assorted foodstuffs that were ‘Ordered but not used’ according to Buzzard, and a few bottles of wine. He and Gordon return to the restaurant where Lela sees what Buzz was taking. The upshot of the resulting confrontation is that Gordon strongly suggests to Lela that she should fire Buzzard, advice that she reluctantly follows the following day when he returns to work.
Gordon conducts a blindfolded taste test next with Ricky and sous chef Lex, Ricky misidentifies chicken as beef and Lex passes with flying colors. The Kitchen Nightmares team perform the customary makeover of the already fairly tasteful and sparkling retaurant, the improvement is slight but noticable but the staff seem very impressed anyway. Gordon develops a new menu more in keeping the the locals budget. His new ‘Casual’ focus sees the birth of majestic sounding creations like ‘Lela’s famous Burger’and ‘The Pomona Salad’. Gordon drums up business for the re-launch with a trip to give away free samples of that hopefully soon-to-be famous burger, and as his success in the blindfolded taste taste has made Lex so hungry for success, Gordon suggests he and Ricky swap places for the night.
On the evening of the re-launch the place is packed, even the mayor is there thanks to Gordon’s presence. Ricky isn’t happy that Gordon has made Lex head chef for a day, but it isn’t long before Gordon is regretting the decision too. Lex’s inexperience begins to show and he’s left with a kitchen full of orders and a restaurant full of customers, but no food leaving his new domain. Lex falls to pieces quickly and bolts off into the night, Gordon chases him down like a genocidal safari hunter with his eye on the last dodo, but Lex manages to escape in his car before Gordon can bring him back to insanity. By now a frustrated Ricky is more than ready to save the day, and he does with much confident cooking of dishes and sorting of Lex’s muddled orders,
Overall the re-launch is a success, Gordon’s praise for Ricky’s new enthusiasm for his role and his ability in a crisis is effusive. Lex returns on the promise he can guarantee it’s only as a sous chef and the place has a whole new positive and professional feel about it. There’s no more Buzz about the place and it’s a lot more profitable, but the good news for Lela Guillen didn’t last very long.
Lela’s Now in 2024 – The After Kitchen Nightmares Update
What became of Lela’s after Kitchen Nightmares? Did the show manage to save it from its downward spiral?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. If anything, they had a tragic end. Just a few months after filming the episode, the restaurant closed its doors for good. Despite Ramsay’s best efforts to revamp the menu and improve the service, Lela’s was unable to overcome its challenges and keep its doors open. The restaurant suffered from poor management and financial instability which eventually led to its closure.
The fact that Lela Guillen, the owner, had no prior experience in the restaurant industry before opening Lela’s also contributed to the problem. She took a gamble, hoping her love for cooking and desire to provide for her family would be enough. Alas, her lack of experience was evident in the operation of the restaurant. Despite Ramsay’s intervention and constructive advice, she struggled to implement and maintain his recommendations.
While Ramsay did his best to inject new life into the establishment with an updated menu and fresh decor, it wasn’t enough to keep customers coming back. The lack of consistent management and staff morale seemed to be a recurring issue that directly impacted customer service. This was evident from the numerous customer complaints about poor service and subpar food quality.
As of 2024, their old location is occupied by a small independent music venue called The Haven.
To summarize, Lela’s story serves as a cautionary tale for those venturing into the restaurant industry. Without proper management and a solid business plan, even the best intentions can fall short. It also highlights that a single appearance on a reality TV show cannot guarantee success; it requires consistent effort, passion, and commitment.
In the end, while the restaurant received a boost in business following its TV appearance, it simply couldn’t sustain itself due to deep-rooted issues.