‘America’s Next Great Restaurant’ assembles a chain gang
Just so you know right off the bat, the “great’’ in the title “America’s Next Great Restaurant’’ is misleading. This new NBC reality contest was created to discover America’s next “fast casual’’ chain restaurant, “fast casual’’ registering only slightly lower on the indigestion meter than fast food. “Great’’ is relevant only if you think a McSkillet Burrito is the McNe McPlus McUltra.
The show, which premieres on Sunday at 8 on Channel 7, has nothing to do with gourmet cooking; it’s about chain-food concepts, business plans, and money, which is why NBC is pairing it with “Celebrity Apprentice.’’ The 21 contestants aren’t chefs hoping to explore gastronomical heights; they are schemers who are trying to convince the show’s judges to fund their endeavor because it’s certain to be another KFC or Subway. Some of them only barely cook. The judges are Chipotle founder Steve Ells, TV personality Bobby Flay, restaurateur Lorena Garcia, and Aussie foodie hottie Curtis Stone.
It’s a little entertaining to hear some of the ideas proposed by the contestants, including Meltworks, a grilled-cheese restaurant, and Limbo, a place where you can get food that’s “good’’ for you (a 400-calorie bison burger) and food that’s “bad’’ for you (a 1,000-calorie pork sandwich). Sports Wrap will give you fitness tips with your sandwiches. An impassioned guy desperately wants to create an Italian food chain called, alas, Saucy Balls. One contestant wants to puree everything into a soup, including nachos; another is driven to enclose all kinds of meals in pot pies; and yet another would like you to develop an urgent taste for macaroni-and-cheese cupcakes.
None of the contestants are quite as memorable as their ideas, except for the man fighting for Saucy Balls. The judges are a little more vivid, remaining firm in their opinions and unafraid to reject proposals without much apology. Surely we’ll get to know all involved more as the season develops and the judges’ tough love pushes the aspirants to the limit. Those with good ideas will still need to come up with viable business plans and realistic marketing approaches, never easy. I’m thinking that, if Mr. Saucy Balls survives the competition, the judges just may pressure him to let go of the name he loves so well.