Restaurant Revisited: Muskrat Mayhem at Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant

by in Shows, May 19th, 2013

Robert Irvine on Restaurant: ImpossibleIn Smyrna, Del., the Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant is indeed a family-run business, owned and operated by three generations of women: grandmother, daughter and granddaughter (Patty Gallegos, Sheila Furman and Jessica Furman, respectively). Their restaurant is known for its classic preparation of a local delicacy — muskrat — but beyond that, it has struggled to succeed, serving primarily frozen food in an old-fashioned space. If their business was to have any hope of thriving in the future, Patty, Sheila and Jessica would need Robert Irvine‘s support to revamp the menu with crowd-pleasing dishes that go beyond muskrat and to enliven the interior with a fresh, welcoming design. In just two days and with a $10,000 budget, Robert and his Restaurant: Impossible team helped this family learn to work together and ultimately reopened Wagon Wheel as a made-over eatery that they could be proud of. We checked in with Jessica a few months after the transformation to find out how the business is doing today.

Her mother, Sheila, is no longer working at Wagon Wheel, so Jessica will be relieving Patty and running the restaurant immediately after her graduation later this month. “I am excited to get back to work, to do what I wanted to since the beginning: make the Wagon Wheel profitable,” she tells FN Dish. “I want to become more involved in the community and create a place that people can go with their families to have a nice dinner with a great vibe.”

She plans to institute a system of guidelines at the Wagon Wheel, which she hopes will in turn create a more positive work atmosphere for the employees and pleasant dining experience for customers. “I feel that setting standards is an important part of returning the restaurant to profitability,” she explains. “Everyone is doing what they can and also what they want, because no one is in charge to reward good behavior or reflect on negative issues.” Increased communication between all workers at the restaurant — managers, front of the house and back of the house included — will also help to equalize expectations. “With open communication from not only owners and managers but with the entire staff, no one is left in the dark to wonder what is going on,” she adds.

Since reopening, the updated decor at the Wagon Wheel has been well-received by customers and staff alike. “My favorite part of the new design is the hostess stand and the divider wall,” Jessica admits. “It makes the restaurant look more professional and is a great thing to see when you first walk in the door.”

In terms of the menu, they’ve kept muskrat on the list of offerings. According to Jessica, “It is what we are known for and it is only seasonal.”

Looking ahead, Jessica tells Dish that she’s confident Restaurant: Impossible has given her and the business the foundation they need to succeed. “I feel that the show has really helped to set a basis of what I want to go back there to achieve.”

More From Restaurant Revisited:

Mom & Dad’s Italian Restaurant (May 12)
Smitty’s Restaurant (April 28)
Old World Italian Restaurant (April 21)
Joe Willy’s Seafood House (April 14)
Sweet Tea’s Restaurant & Catering (March 24)
Soup to Nuts Diner (March 17)
Caseyville Cafe (March 13)
Maniaci’s Italian Restaurant (March 10)
Dinner Bell Restaurant (February 27)
Nanny Goat’s Cafe & Feed Bin (February 20)
Sapori D’Italia (January 23)
Windseeker Restaurant (January 16)
Whiskey Creek Steakhouse (January 2)
Rising Sun Bistro (December 19)
Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Missouri (December 9)
Bronk’s Bar and Grill (December 5)
Rohrer’s Tavern (November 28)
Poco’s on the Boulevard (November 21)
Oleander Bar and Grill (October 17)
Valley Inn (October 10)
Whistle Stop (October 3)
The Maple Tree Cafe (September 26)
Michele’s (September 19)
Paliani’s Restaurant (September 12)
Frankie’s (September 5)
Gusanoz (August 29)

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Comments (134)

  1. jay says:

    Do anyone know how well this restaurant is doing since the granddaughter took over? Is muskrat still on the menu?

  2. Kathy Blomquist says:

    Having Muskrat on the menu is like flipping an old house and leaving all the floral wallpaper boarders up. Get some up to date menu items and make sure some gluten free is on the chart.

  3. chip angell says:

    What did you think about the chef they "hired"?

  4. murphys law says:

    Finals Days of Wagon Wheel

    Posted: Sep 02, 2014 8:17 PM EDT

    By Shannel Douglas – email

    SMYRNA, Del.- Over the years, a popular restaurant in Kent County has been revamped and revitalized. It even appeared in a reality TV show on the Food Network last year. But now the famous, Wagon Wheel in Smyrna will close its doors.

    As restaurant manager, Jessica Furman walks around the Wagon Wheel, she's hit with a sense of sadness. The restaurant is a place she's spent most of her life in.

    "I grew up in this restaurant," said Furman. "My grandmother owned it since I was probably three years old."

    It's the last week Furman will get to walk about the restaurant. It's a bittersweet feeling to see it all come to end.

    "That time has come," said Furman. "Business has been going pretty good for us. We've changed it into an entertainment venue at night so we have tons of support from local artists."

    After appearing on the reality show, Restaurant Impossible, Wagon Wheel changed its look and geared itself towards a broader crowd. It even became one of the only local spots for local musicians to play.

    Now with the restaurant going away, there will be a void in thea rea.

    But not without closing with a bang.

    Friday and Saturday the restaurant will be hosting Localpalooza, where tons of bands and local artists will be performing. Furman says they will have over 20 acts performing to close out the restaurant on a good note.

    "We are going out with one big last bash this weekend," said Furman.

    A final celebration to say a final good-bye to the long-standing restaurant.

    "It's sad to see it go but at the same time for us it's exciting because it's onto the next chapter."

    For more information on the events, visit facebook.com/wagonwheelsmyrna

  5. Mike says:

    The food was horrible and the service was slow. I live in clayton, Delaware. They should have closed 5 years ago.I'm sure no one will miss this place.

  6. charlie says:

    I hope she is doing well but IF she is selling roadkill and ignoring the food saftety standards when it come to USDA Approved meat then she SHOULD FAIL BIGTIME JMHO

  7. charlie says:

    Was Tanyia in this show?????

  8. guest says:

    So ruining a local business in your community would be the answer then?? I'm sure you're looking forward to another McDonald's… Yum!!

  9. Shelly says:

    they put a sign out front.

  10. Guest says:

    then you havent traveled and tried different cuisines then, because a lot of restaurants on the eastern shore of Maryland sell Muskrat, along with deer, rabbit, and some even squirrel.

  11. Guest says:

    The Indians think we are crazy for eating cow…its all about perspective so dont put someone else down.

  12. They've been selling it for 50 years. You don't HAVE to order it.

  13. schnibbitymom says:

    From the minute I started watching this episode, I had issues with Sheila. She just acted like she could do whatever she wanted, since her Mom owned the place and the fact that she's left since the makeover, just seems to validate my thought. I never got the impression that she was burned out, how can you burn out when you only show up for a few hours at a time?

    Both she and her son appear to be very lazy and yet somehow, Jessica has cultivated a very strong work ethic, good for her. I think Patty is much better off in the restaurant with both Sheila and Josh gone. I agree with Scarlet, I definitely think Sheila is a whiner, if you were doing your job, why would you need your Mom to keep patting you on the back? She should've taken pride in her work and not worried about whether her Mom thought she was doing a good job.

    After the reveal, Robert commented about her new relationship with her Mom, yet her reply was only about the fact that they had "an all new place." Later, when the restaurant was filled and they talked to her on camera, all she could say was, "It'll be a lot of hours and a lot of hard work…"

  14. I agree – Sheila has self-esteem issues. Who her age looks to their mother for positive input? Someone who has been unable to build a life. The elder mother was more than a bit odd, and I'm not surprised her daughter behaves in such a manner. They need some serious family and individual therapy.

  15. Scarlet says:

    Completely agree!! Heck….some people even consider catfish to be a "trash" fish because it is a filter fish that feeds on the bottom.

  16. thinkoutsidethebox says:

    I personally will never eat muskrat. However, I also think eating milk that's been molding for months, sometimes years, is beyond disgusting– but people have chowing down on cheese for centuries. Palettes are different in different parts of the world (does nobody here watch "Bizarre Foods"?). I do agree that anything served in a restaurant should first pass an FDA inspection; I don't care what it is.

  17. Guest says:

    The final "design" might have been a slight improvement, but not much – it could have been so much better if Taniya had done it.

  18. TOTALLY disagree. The new environment was very soothing and sophisticated. The old environment looked broken-down and mis-matched. Why is your name here 'Epic Failure'?

  19. MattfromWA says:

    I don't think Chef Robert gets on Taniya's back for the sake of ratings, nor do I believe the show is scripted (some of the content might not be as spontaneous as it appears, but, again, I don't believe the dialog is scripted). Taniya is a grown woman and makes a choice to keep doing designs on the show; she certainly knows by now about Robert's directness and Robert is just as curt to Tom and everyone who is working on the restaurant. I think you should let it go Dale.

  20. MattfromWA says:

    You make a lot of good points. I do contrast with you and Scarlet about Sheila wanting recognition from her mother, isn't it natural for a daughter who is working closely with her mother in a high stress enviornment like a failing restaurant to want direct validation? Yeah, she hadn't done jack squat to earn it at the time the show was taped, but she did manage the place at one time and you would think her mother would have thanked her for that.
    Everything else you and Scarlet typed I can go along with. I can hardly believe I wasted my time defending Sheila about anything since she bailed on the place. Again, you are right. Patti and the restaurant are better off without Sheila and her son, who it looked to me like he didn't belong in the kitchen in the first place.

  21. Pam says:

    if you ever went there you would see sheila 6 days a week. the only person doing anything and everything. all other employees were sitting around eating,outside smoking.whatever they wanted, sheila only whinned to her mother to get her to enforce the rules. sheila busted her ass everyday for the restaraunt,,as i am a friend of the family for 30yrs

  22. Sue says:

    kiss my ASS

  23. Sue says:

    Last comment for Calvin

  24. ken says:

    I was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland. I won't eat muskrat, but I love and miss scrapple. I don't think they should serve or be allowed to to serve muskrat.

  25. Leif says:

    Ah that's bunk. The mom is obviously going through some man-chasing midlife crisis and is emotionally jacked. As the article said, she's not even working there anymore. Inability to commit, blaming her mom for everything, being outshone by her own daughter even PRE-graduation… way too convenient. God bless the woman who mortgaged her own home just to keep her lazy-assed relatives employed.

  26. Nick says:

    Don't be mean.

  27. JBDragon says:

    Yes, I love Taniya's designs! Man do I hate green.

  28. lukebandit says:

    I agree. I would not go there to eat because I would order salmon and what if that Muskrat had been cooked in that pan 30 minutes before? Would they wash it and sterilize it within 30 minutes? Heck no! I could barely get through the show with the knowledge of that menu item! GROSS and SICKENING!

  29. Penelope says:

    I think you you need to take a few minutes and think about some things…. First… Robert & his team are only responsible for helping point them in the right direction not to run the business. Second, if the owners and staff do not take proper care of the place after Robert and the team leaves and things fall apart, the blame is on them, not on Robert's team. Third, i am sure he has more restaurant experience in his pinkie finger than you or most of the people he helps. I have 17+ years in all positions of the restaurant business from dishwasher to management & I still tweet Robert and ask him questions when I am unsure of something. Each person has their own idea of what is good and what isn't just because you do not like something then you don't like it… it doesn't mean that someone else won't like it. That seems to be what this particular owners problem is… she when by what tasted good to her…. not in what would work for everyone. If the owner thinks a deep fried twinkie stuffed inside a hamburger and served on a doughnut is good, is everyone else going to think the same thing? I think not.
    Anyway, I think it is great that Marc Summers, has come up with a way to spend $10,000 on a failing place to try to give these people some help. I also think it's amazing that Robert is willing to leave his new wife to travel to all these places and do this for people all while you set back and dog him. Not to mention the rest of the team that goes with him… Poor Tom never gets a break he is always there, at least Tanya (sp?) gets a break and Lynn comes out.
    We don't get to see all of the hell and hassle that I am sure they go through.
    Lastly, about him taking things off the menu and telling her how to BBQ, obviously she needed the help or she wouldn't have been going out of business would she?
    Now with all that said I am headed in to my restaurant to start making my biscuits & cinnamon rolls from scratch. Have a good day! :)

  30. Local Foodie says:

    I agree, people need to branch out a little. When I was a kid we never tried anything different (nor were encouraged to) than the PA Dutch food my parents were brought up on. Now I'll try almost anything (it won't be muskrat I'm afraid). Love ostrich and buffalo! Have only tried alligator once in a cajun restaurant but would love to try it a different way. Your post makes me want a bison sirloin now!

  31. Disagree with other posters, but don't be rude to a whole country simply because you don't like someone's point of view.

  32. I feel sorry for any loved one you lose in your life that you won't grieve for them. I lost my mother almost three years ago and I the grief still paralyzes me at times.

  33. Tom says:

    to scarlet, that girl was there from day 1, doing everything possible. from painting,cleaning every inch of that place. had your drink at your own special table before we sat down, always friendly and never complained.the show didnt tell you all the truth nor the spending of money that went to nothing.her dad dying had nothing to do with the business going down,people need more facts before ignorance.

  34. guest says:

    4 people who would at least try it first !!!!!!!!!!

  35. Harley2063 says:

    Yeah, I watched the scene unfold and exclaimed to my wife – OMG – look at THAT (!!) – they're painting that wonderful tongue & groove knotty pine. They haven't got a clue what that stuff would go for in today's market. . To make matters worse – it was ugly paint, besides – still dark as well. Like you suggest – should have brightened up with lights. However – no one will ever take the time to strip that much paint from a tongue & groove product. What a loss to a beautiful wood product.

  36. Jess W. says:

    I didn't know north americans also eat vermin (rats) in addition to swine and frogs. And the femme owner refused to take the rats off the menu. I wouldn,t want to eat there personally.

  37. Tom M says:

    Robert always spits out the food. It's typical of Brits to think that they are the only ones who can do anything.

  38. Tom M says:

    Maybe not everyone is as perfect as you…

  39. Tom M says:

    I agree with Suja

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