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. Sue says:

    I went the 2nd week received soggy shrimp and raw chicken, the potatoes were grey! never going back!!!

  2. Dennis Cain says:

    Hey Chef Irvine, I am a resident of Monroe Michigan. This is a town with many French Canadian decendents and they love their Muskrat! My best friend trapped prepared and ate Muskrat his entire life and I have eaten, and enjoyed, it many times in my life. This is a French Canadian tradition and when local restaurants that offer this dish sell out fast everytime! Ratatouille has Rat in it's name too and I think sales are pretty good. Open you ethnic horizons.

  3. sandy says:

    Robert muckrat is good eating if cook right my famliy loves it i grow up on it my grandmother made all the time so noone should put down if you have not had

  4. Angelsmom says:

    The sheer stupidity of "anti-muskrat" remarks is amazing. Muskrat is a regionally enjoyed dish that is no more or less unusual or palatable than squirrel, alligator, escargot (snails), hedgehog (in England), raccoon, and, guinea pigs (Peru), or wild dove. If the muskrat had already been dressed out, you lot wouldn't have been whipped into such a hysterical frenzy.

    I find the idea of a cleaned, properly dressed, well prepared muskrat dish far less repugnant than the idea of eating an animals poison filter organ.

    • Lizzie says:

      People in England DO NOT eat hedgehog!! I am English and my parents are English, we have all lived in England our entire lives and frequented MANY restaurants and not one of them has served hedgehog or plan to do so. You would have been better off by mentioning haggis and black pudding which is served in Scotland and Ireland, but hedgehog. Please check your facts before commenting on something that is completely untrue.

  5. lorin says:

    I do agree with most folks about the muskrat, yuk. I guess it works for the Wagon Wheel.
    But I do think if the name was changed to something exotic, and it was served in a high end five star restaurant, it would be a best seller. (oh yes and if they added "free range" ) most high end diners like that. I do wish them the best and hope they make a comeback.

  6. Jay says:

    I can't stand the phony over eager fake smiles and praises of the food after the renovation! Give me a break! The food was regular and it was still from the same kitchen/pots/cook only difference was some fresh paint and new tables! I just wished the response was a bit more realistic

  7. Chris says:

    The true uneducated hicks around here are the ones who say that they refuse to eat at the restaurant because it serves a form of rat. The muskrat isn't part of the rattus genus and therefore isn't related to a rat anymore than a chicken is. Not to mention that it's appearance is much closer to that of a beaver. A little more research would reveal that it's primary diet isn't scavenged trash but aquatic vegetation. Deer eat far more trash than a muskrat.

    Eat what you like and where you like, but before you start calling names about people participating in local cuisines, at least do a little casual research first. It's the 21st century – Wikipedia is only one click away!

    You may think it makes you appear to be "oh so sophisticated" because you reject a restaurant for serving "rat" but the reality is that it actually reveals you as an uneducated simpleton. True sophisticates understand that it's a big world out there with many regional tastes and traditions.

  8. Sidney in Texas says:

    Give me aa break, you don't eat at the Wagon Wheel in Smyrna, Delaware! ! ! ! I am married to a Delaware man and have seen Muscrat served in his mother's home in years passed. I personally do not eat it but being from a farming family in Texas, I have eaten bird, squirel and rabbit, but do not eat cat fish or chicken as I have raised caught or raised them and know what they eat. On the other hand, I eat oysters and other shell fish as well as escargo and thoroughly enjoy them. I truly hope this family restaurant thrives and will eat there next time we are in Delaware. Sidney in Texas

  9. Jack says:

    I died a little inside when they painted that beautiful wood ceiling! I get that it was too dark inside, but add some more lights, or even put in a skylight or two! Painting that beautiful, and no doubt expensive, natural wood ceiling in all honesty made it look more generic and was quite amateurish for a designer! I have no doubt they will be stripping that paint in no less than 5 years!

  10. Ashley says:

    MUSKRAT was not my problem when watching this episode…. However when her grandson started cursing her out and being very disrespectful to her that was horrible!!!!!! If that was my grandmother I would have been picking my teeth up off the floor because my mother would have hit me for disrespecting her mother… The owner just looked so tired and worn out and the only person that seem to want to help was her granddaughter. However, Im glad that she and her daughter(manager) talked so she could started helping out more.

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