Customers give Gordon Ramsay restaurant makeover mixed reviews
The Sandra Dee’s Bar-B-Que & Seafood episode of Gordon Ramsay’s “24 Hours to Hell and Back” aired Wednesday, and had all the yelling, drama and tears promised in the season finale’s TV Guide description.
The only thing missing: owner Sandra Dee Johnson’s ultimate rejection of most of Ramsay’s changes.
The episode ended with Ramsay driving away from Sacramento after a 24-hour whirlwind renovation of the 19-year-old Alkali Flat soul food restaurant in early December. Within two days, though, Johnson had reverted back to her old menu and stripped some of the newly installed modern decor.
Ramsay’s staff replaced framed pictures of longtime customers with brightly-colored shutters and trimmed Sandra Dee’s menu down to just eight items, including jalapeno baked mac and cheese and pan-seared trout over succotash.
For the episode, which is available in full here, Ramsay and his team installed hidden cameras around Sandra Dee’s and watched for weeks as the restaurant ran out of popular dishes, heated others up in the microwave before serving them to customers and bristled with tension as Johnson berated her staff.
Ramsay then dined at Sandra Dee’s outfitted as a construction worker, picking apart the greasy calamari, canned green beans and coagulated cheese before stripping off his disguise and pulling all employees and customers outside to watch the kitchen’s lowlights over the last several weeks. For Johnson, the humiliation was almost enough to quit the show and fire all staff members on the spot, she said.
“The way (Ramsay) came at me is very embarrassing. I’m very, very angry,” she said in an on-camera interview. “I’m from the street. I fight dudes. It’s nothing to me.”
In an interview with The Bee on Thursday, Johnson said she had thought the restaurant’s interior would be receiving a tuneup from a female renovator. Had she known it would be Ramsay or that he would redo her menu, she said, she wouldn’t have agreed to participate.
“What I signed up for was a face-lift. I had no idea they were coming in and changing whole menu — that was not said to me at all,” Johnson said. “They lied to us at the beginning, in the middle, then boom — Gordon Ramsey was in my kitchen and I had no idea what was going on.”
Johnson hasn’t watched the episode yet and doesn’t plan to. She lived through it, she said, and doesn’t want to again. Her regular customers begged her not to change the menu during the shoot, she said, and she knew she wouldn’t adopt the menu even before Ramsay left.
“These are all my grandmother, my mother, my aunties’ recipes that I’ve been doing 20 years, and for him and his prod company to come in and change them, it didn’t feel right in my soul,” Johnson said. “Not that his food wasn’t good, it’s just not mine.”
Ramsay set about inspecting the kitchen, where he found what he described as months’ worth of oil above the grill. He pulled out expired seafood, discovered dried blood in the kitchen and tossed chicken that had been sitting in its own blood long enough to make it pungent.
Things weren’t much better in the barbecue pit, where Ramsay found a gas canister and bleach next to a furnace coated in grease.
“What are you trying to do, create a bomb?” Ramsay asked one restaurant employee. “(Expletive) the earthquake, you’ll blow up Sacramento yourself, you (expletive) idiot!”
Much of the episode focused on Johnson’s 28-year-old daughter Tateyanna, a server fellow staffers described as “irritable” and “aggressive.” Johnson said on the show she had wanted to fire Tateyanna a year ago, but ultimately made up with her daughter, who was painted with having a renewed sense of hospitality by the end of the episode.
On Thursday, Johnson said Tateyanna was worked less frequently at Sandra Dee’s and engaging better with customers on the job.
Many viewers didn’t take kindly to Johnson’s attitude either Wednesday night, as shown in several social media posts.
Johnson did keep a few of Ramsay’s changes, such as covering the walls in barnwood paneling, and the kitchen received a complimentary deep-cleaning. During the episode, she admitted she didn’t think the restaurant would remain open much longer if it kept running as-is.
Business has picked up since the shoot in December 2017, though. Catering orders are reportedly through the roof, Sandra Dee’s is now listed on the popular delivery service Caviar and Johnson is working on a cookbook, she said.
The next season of “24 Hours to Hell & Back” will debut next year on Fox. Ramsay also visited three Los Angeles-area restaurants in the show’s inaugural season — Brownstone Bistro, La Serenata and Patrick Molloy’s.