Momma Cherri's Soul Food Shack
Friday, June 13 2008 | Comments (0)
Brighton is full of locals and tourists, and is a great place for a hip soul food restaurant. But does Momma Cherri's Soul Food Shack have the Heart to go with the Soul?
Momma Cherri is a feisty woman with soul in her roots, and she works hard to bring this soul to every dish she plates. She works seven days a week, and has for four years. Yet, her restaurant is suffering. They get a fair crowd on the weekends, but no business during the week. Momma reveals that they haven't profited a penny since they opened.
Gordon asks her what kind of chef she is. She tells him that she is a "stick-to-your-roots"cook. Although she is the head cook, she also employs a head chef. But Brian, the head chef, doesn't have much control in the kitchen. Charita makes the menu, and he just cooks it; or sometimes just helps cook it. He admits to Gordon that the job is pretty "chill" and he only works 35 hours a week.
Gordon goes out into the dining room to eat. He has the catfish with pineapple salsa, and traditional southern hush-puppies - and he likes it. For "mains," he chooses jambalaya, ribs and succotash. Gordon is surprised to find that he not only loves the first course, but he also loves the main course. "It tastes fabulous," he says, just before heading into the kitchen with an empty plate for the first time in the show's history. So, the food isn't the problem, then what is?
On Friday, Gordon finds that Momma is the only one who shows up at the Food Shack, as she does most of the prep herself to save money.
Most of the food comes from the freezer or cans, which means that her homestyle soul cooking could be more wholesome. When Brian and the rest of the staff arrive for the dinner hour, Gordon can tell that the staff has no passion. The head chef has no motivation, and the front of house waitress shows up late. It's too laid back - it's not professional. The food might taste good, but it's not a professional kitchen. Charita talks to them as if they are her children, nothing is made fresh, the plates look like mountains of messy food, and Charita is killing herself trying to do everything, while she pays two chefs to simply plate up food.
On day three, when Gordon arrives at the Food Shack, no one is there at 10 am. This is another indication of the staff not pulling their own weight. Head Chef Brian is late, and he doesn't get any reprimand from Charita. And, this is an indication of how Charita needs to rule with a stronger hand.
As they begin to cook, Gordon acknowledges that hot from the stove her food is irresistible, but then everything goes to the freezer, etc. She is in the habit of freezing her preparations instead of plating them that night. And after working in the kitchen and being side-lined for four years, Brian has lost his motivation and passion.
When Gordon meets with Charita later, they discuss not only restructuring the menu and being more stern with the staff, but also on putting the focus back on the Soul of the food. So, they hit the beach to grill up some fresh soul food. She can really sell it with her addicting personality that she has been hiding in the kitchen all this time.
Later that night, with more bookings than they've had in years, they hold a staff meting. Gordon orders Charita out of the kitchen, puts Brian to the task of being the true head chef, and gives the staff some new direction. Gordon makes her get out of the kitchen so she can sell her food, and Brian is going to ask as head chef.
Gordon tries to teach professionalism to Brian - no smiling no laughing. Charita steps effortlessly into the hostess role. Gordon takes buffalo wings fresh, not frozen. Most of the food is going out as it always does - hot food, cold plate. Momma Cherri's is also over booked; she has people gong to the pub next door to ask people to wait. The food is not gong out fast enough, and Brian is having a hard time taking the reigns. It's harder for him to take charge when Charita is constantly interrupting. Now that they are cooking the food fresh, it's taking longer to cook. This new method of well prepared, fresh cooking will take time to get used to.
But in the end, the customers enjoy the food, and what really works best is that Cherri is showing her face to the clientèle, and that is making an impression on them. This is how she can build the business.
If Brian is going to win her respect so he needs to prepare as well as cut. So, his hours were cut, so he is home with his daughter. His confidence has diminished in the years. Gordon tells him that he needs to be stronger.
The next day, Gordon meets with Brian to give him some tips on how to prep the food properly and cook the food soulfully, but fresh. Since his hours were cut, he stays home with his daughter during the day. After the lesson, Brian has begun to regain his confidence.
Back at the restaurant, Gordon uses a cake recipe as a metaphor to teach Charita how to run a business. She needs equal, wholesome ingredients. She needs to toughen up and find balance. As he takes a step out for a few minutes, Charita begins to cry at the prospect that they might not lose her business.
To tackle the lack-of-weekday-customers issue, Gordon introduces a sampler platter - bowls of soul, essentially - all colorfully displayed on a tray, and sold for ten pounds per person. It is a success - everyone loves the samplers. They are popular and after a few the busy weeknights, Brian finally takes charge of the kitchen, showing great promise.
Charita's Soul Food Shack went on to close, actually, because it was such a success! She decided to expand into a bigger place - a five story, soul food haven - Momma Cheri's Big House.
When Gordon goes back two years later, Charita's reputation has grown, and she is on radio and TV. She has to move into a bigger place - Momma sherries' is moving up into this HUGE place! It's the first MEGA soul food restaurant. Is she filling it? Apparently - she is booking three months in advance, and seating about 1000 covers a week. She has nine chefs to feed the soul-food-searching multitudes. Gordon can't wait to eat, so he checks out the kitchen first. He finds that there is a lot of frozen foot and some pre-cooked things.
Gordon is not happy about the pre-cooked food. He smells danger. He's afraid the expansion might be too much if they can't maintain the fresh food. He fears that the soul has left the kitchen. Where is the passion and the standards? Gordon is especially upset because to this point, Momma's was one of his biggest success stories. Now, all that he had worked so hard to fix is undone. He makes Brian toss all the old stuff. They've gone back to the old ways and the food is going to sh*t. The shack was the food that had is successful. People are feeling like there isn't enough labor. She has turned her back. If this food isn't as good as the Shack, then they will fail.
So Gordon is getting them back into the heart of things. As she expanded, she let standards slip. She is panicking. She is in danger of being a fast food outlet. She is better than t ha. Her eyes were off the ball, and now she's back on. He doesn't know how to run a big kitchen. So, Gordon needs to get some dedication in the kitchen. So, Gordon wants him to get his "bollux" they have 20 minutes to make five bowls. He needs him Brian RUN the kitchen. This food should be cooked to order. Brian just needed a kick up the arse. They bring it together as a team - and they plate up the tray - everything looks better than it did last night. The soul is back. Brian took control. As long as they ditch the pre-cooked, they'll be OK. He talks to them as they walk - Charita needs to support Brian. She needs Brian to be strong; he needs a strong foundation. She they are gong back to the good soul food. Gordon sticks around for lunch - and he feels like he is back at the shack - and Gordon tries his new dish - it's good. He meets Gordon's approval. It's tough but he is confident that they will succeed.
The good news? The newly expanded Momma's Big House of Soul Food continued taking reservations, enjoyinga wave of customers after airing on Ramsay's Kitchen Nighmares, and, Momma Cherri published her first cookbook,although it appears to be currently out of stock. The bad news - based on comments on the Brighton restaurant guide, Brighton Eating, the restaurant seemed to have reverted to its pre-Gordon-ways after his second visit with the organization! AS of January 2008, Charita Jones announced that she would be closing the "Big House" because the building carried too much debt and internal problems. Again, her overhead with the new restaurant was exceeding what she was bringing in, even with the Ramsay influenced customers visiting the establishment each day. But how many times could Gordon fly in to shape up her ways? Was it death by success, or failure to ever truly revise the struggling business? The concept is so unique, that one would hope that Momma might try again, on a smaller scale, and start over modeling after Gordon's advice in the first place.