Restaurant Revisited: Ungratifying at gratifi kitchen + bar

by in Shows, April 2nd, 2014

Kevin Strickland and Robert IrvineIn Houston, the dangerously dirty kitchen at gratifi kitchen + bar was just one of the major issues with which Robert Irvine was to contend during his latest Restaurant: Impossible mission. The eatery’s owner, Kevin Strickland, was notably arrogant and struggled to work well with his employees — and Robert. It took the Restaurant: Impossible team two days and $10,000 to overhaul gratifi kitchen + bar and transform Kevin’s brashness before they would ultimate relaunch the business. FN Dish has the first exclusive interview with Kevin since filming wrapped; read on below to hear from him and find out how gratifi is doing today.

“Most customers, whether new or old, think it is fantastic,” Kevin says of the interior overhaul on gratifi. He and his employees are pleased with the update as well, he says, adding of staff, “They see that it is a much nicer restaurant and they dress appropriately for it.” He adds, “The bar is 10 times better. It’s not only beautiful but now functions like a real bar.

The reaction to gratifi’s new menu has been favorable as well, according to Kevin. “The tuna nachos are a surprise hit,” he reports. He admits that Robert’s menu is more appropriate for the business, but he’s “already tweaked it some” since reopening. “I will likely drop a couple of items and have plans to add two or three new items. Menus should change over time anyway, so it’s OK,” he explains. “I consider this menu a starting point, not an end point. I already have plans for new menu items to represent Houston’s very diverse food culture.” Kevin adds that “the new menu is very well priced for the food we are now making,” and he says that there’ve been “absolutely no comments about the higher prices.”

In terms of kitchen sanitation, Kevin notes that his kitchen employees “are 100 percent on board with the new way of doing things.”

Now that Robert has left, Kevin says, “I am more direct with my staff. I nip problems in the bud before they have a chance to fester.” He adds, in terms of his state of mind, “Rather than the stress generated by those three dysfunctional people, it’s now been replaced by the stress to keep the current staff motivated, trained, on point.”

“I’m over-the-moon happy with the renovation,” Kevin notes, looking back on his Restaurant: Impossible transformation.

More from Restaurant Revisited:

Mama Della’s N.Y. City Pizzeria (March 26)
Pasión Latin Fusion (March 19)
Tootie’s Texas BBQ (March 12)
Mill Creek BBQ Restaurant (March 5)
Estrada’s Restaurant (February 5)
Hillbillies Restaurant (January 29)
Spunky Monkey Bar and Grill (January 15)
Heather’s Country Kitchen (January 1)
Goombazz Big City Eatzz (December 18)
LBI Pancake House (December 8)
Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Company (December 8)
Mike La Susa’s Italian Restaurant (December 4)
Seven (November 27)
Georgia Boy Cafe (November 20)
Coach Lamp Restaurant & Pub (November 13)
The Windsor 75 (November 6)
Ducky’s Family Restaurant (October 30)
Mama Campisi’s Restaurant (October 23)
Aponte’s Pizzeria (August 25)
Benner Street (July 28)
Hurley’s American Grille (July 21)
Kalico Kitchen (July 14)
Angelo’s (June 23)
Pier West Restaurant (June 16)
Pinehurst Country Lodge (June 9)
Bryan’s Smokehouse (May 26)
Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant (May 19)
Mom & Dad’s Italian Restaurant (May 12)

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Comments (54)

  1. Olive Oil says:

    Too dirty. Bet he falls back into his old ways. Clean people! No excuse for a dirty kitchen and restaurant. Biggest turnoff ever is a dirty kitchen and dusty, dirty dining area. I will never get it not cleaning.

  2. Accounting 101 says:

    I worked in restaurants to pay for my college. I have done every job there is, from dishwasher to manager. I understand how restaurants work. My mother taught me basic cooking techniques – how to make a roux, how to make bechamel and the various sauces derived from it, how to make stock, how to poach, deglaze, etc. My friends and family rave about my cooking and are always saying I should open a restaurant. After all, I have all the qualifications, right? BUT because I'm an ACCOUNTANT, I know what an incredible financial risk restaurants are. I would rather lose money gambling in Las Vegas. That's a lot more fun…and you get free drinks to drown your sorrows.

  3. LeftAngle says:

    I'm going to stick my neck way out here and suggest that the owner might have Asperger syndrome. The reason I say this is (1) his *completely* flat affect from beginning to end, and (2) I'm an Aspie myself so I know what it's like trying to deal with the world in that way. Normally when Robert does his intervention there's an "a-ha!" moment sometime on Day 2 (e,g, "That's the first time I've seen you smile since I got here!"). There was none of that here.

    Aspies have a hard time connecting and empathizing with people. That could explain why he chose a name that made perfect sense to him but that other people would be very likely to misunderstand ("gra-tee-fee? Is that "graffiti" spelled sideways?). They're also prone to taking things literally and saying things bluntly without regard for social niceties ("Go help him with the Angus, he doesn't know what he's doing").

    The "Yes, Sir" thing is also one Aspie coping technique. When you have Aspergers there's something like a "grey fog" between you and the rest of humanity; things are taking place "out there" that you can barely perceive. Sometimes you say or do something and someone cuts through the fog and whacks you upside the head. You're totally confused; you didn't see it coming and you don't know what you did to cause it to happen. Eventually you realize that being agreeable, saying "yes sir" to everything they come out with, often gets them to lay off and stop pounding on you. It becomes a habit, and one of the few tools available to you.

    As I said, I have Aspergers. I also own a boutique retail business with lots of customer contact (picture framing shop). There are many similarities to a restaurant; we deal with all kinds of customers as well as staff, we make items to order, there's a "front of house" (design and customer interaction) and "back of house" (production). We've been known from day one for our good customer relations. The key for me has been to *know* the specific challenges I face and to do the work to compensate for them. I have had to explicitly learn how to "read" people and respond accordingly. Sometimes I forget and something brusque or insensitive pops out of my mouth (I call that an "Aspie moment"). When that happens I use it as a learning experience for next time.

    I wish the owner well. I also hope that he starts to understand the challenges he faces and learns to deal with them.

    • Janey says:

      Could be he just has azzhole syndrome.

    • Bobby says:

      I'm not familiar with Asperger syndrome at all, but I just wanted to comment that your post was very, very interesting to read. And although you may have challenges interacting and picking up on certain social nuances, it's clear that you've put a lot of effort into identifying and dealing with those issues, because your post demonstrates a lot of objective thinking.

  4. jacki says:

    We have been RI fans since the beginning. As such, we have not gone out for ANY meals-this includes fast food! Frankly i enjoy Chef Irvines passion for food-he "gets" it. As a foodie myself, who truly enjoys cooking with challenges-i live with a diabetic with heart problems i get a charge outta this show-if only for Robert and his AMAZING STAFF! Personally i'd like to hear more about all of them once in a while, rather than these piss poor owners! Just by body language and facial expressions most of these folks no longer care or are clueless. Really a shame, especially if this pays the bills.

  5. Kari says:

    I sensed nothing but pure 'show' from the owner, from his miraculous "turn around" to appreciate Robert, his "tears" at the reveal, etc. etc. If you ask me he was desperate for the $10,000 "bath and makeover" so that he can dump the place on someone else. The amount of debt he had accumulated was nothing short of ridiculous, as was the condition of the kitchen.

  6. Jennifer says:

    I would like to know why Chef Irvine never checks the restrooms. I also watch Kitchen Nightmares, and Chef Ramsey does check them. I know that this is a huge part of the restaurant and if my family goes to a place that has dirty and unkempt restrooms, we will not return and sometimes even walk out at that moment, but always telling who ever is in charge at the time. If he does check them, then say that on the show to let the viewers that know that he has checked them out. In my opinion, a dirty bathroom is a sure sign of a dirty kitchen and whether the employees are following the health dept. regulations on personal cleanliness.

    • Gandel Dorfmann says:

      How often do you use the restroom at a restaurant? Always? Are you the one who stuffs all the toilet paper in the bowl? Or are you the one who never flushes?
      Geez. use your own toilet.

  7. Connie says:

    We visit Houston often and look for new restaurants. I became curious about this one while watching the show but the owner is already changing the menu. I can't try the new dishes that just gor rave reviews? Seems like a lost opportunity. I won't be going there.

  8. Sue says:

    I would like to know what that application was the designers put on the wall, it was flat grey decorative panels. love it !!! We are trying to find something to cover up a wall and this looks like the trick !! not sure about the rest. but the designers are really pretty great !

    • Mandy says:

      I second that. I think they said what it is during the episode but I can't find the episode online to listen to that part again. I was looking on Google to see if anyone had found out and am coming up with nothing!!

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