To the Shanty and back: Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay stirs it up at Allentown bistro for hit Fox reality-TV show
To say Joe Tatasciore was nervous is an understatement.
At 8 p.m. Jan. 9, his restaurant, Shanty on 19th, was featured on the Fox-TV reality show “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back.”
The Allentown bistro was given a makeover by the celebrity chef for for his television show, which began its second season Jan. 2. The Shanty is featured on the second episode of the 2019 season.
“I’m definitely nervous to see how they portray us,” Tatasciore says. “Let’s just say it’s made for television.”
Tatasciore says the adventure started when he was contacted out of the blue last year by representatives of the restaurant-makeover show. Producers had spotted some negative reviews of the restaurant on on the website Yelp. Tatasciore says he was told they were looking for a restaurant to redo in the Lehigh Valley and chose the Shanty.
He says the producers visited numerous times during a couple of months, scouting out the location and doing preparatory interviews with Tatasciore, his wife and the staff.
However, the restauranteur didn’t know it was for Ramsay’s TV show until the sharp-tongued chef himself showed up the first day of taping in October 2018.
For the television show, which had its first season premiere on Fox in June 2018, Ramsay travels across the United States, visiting restaurants in his 70-foot-long “Hell On Wheels” semi-truck that unfolds into a high-tech mobile kitchen.
Ramsay, 52, who received the Order of the British Empire, is a British chef, restaurateur, and television personality. The Scotland native grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Ramsay’s restaurants have been awarded 16 Michelin stars. His signature restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, is in Chelsea, London. He first appeared on British television in the late 1990s.
The 2019 season debut, Jan. 2, of “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back” featured the Trolley Stop Café, New Orleans. The first season included restaurants in Los Angeles, Wichita, and Greenville, Miss., among other cities.
A team was first sent to secretly survey the Shanty, 613 N. 19th St., between Allen and Tilghman streets, Allentown, with Ramsay eventually going undercover inside. He then tries to address problems and revive the restaurant by retraining staff and refreshing the menu, culminating in a relaunch of the restaurant with a grand re-opening to the public after extensive renovations.
Tatasciore says, true to form, Ramsay’s first visit to the restaurant was in disguise with about 50 people in tow to eat dinner and evaluate the Shanty.
“They set you up to fail,” says Tatasciore, who with his wife were taken to the mobile kitchen to review the problems that Ramsay found.
According to the TV show’s official episode listing, “After intense investigation and surveillance, Chef Ramsay and his team discover that feuds between the restaurant’s owner and staff have taken a toll not only on the restaurant’s business, but on the personal lives of everyone involved. Ramsay will try to bring this failing restaurant back from the brink of disaster.”
Tatasciore says the Shanty wasn’t “in any danger of closing down.”
He says he bought the Shanty five years ago with the plan to recreate the original Shanty, which closed in 2005 after nearly 40 years of business in Allentown’s West End Theater District.
“We needed a little boost and it did help give us some direction,” Tatasciore says of Ramsay’s visit.
He says the five days of taping, during which the restaurant was closed, was like a “tornado,” as the crew came with 100 people, trucks, and set up tents and cameras.
“It was insanity,” he says. “It was a hell of an experience. But during that, they are in your life 15 hours a day.”
At one point, Tatasciore says he told the producers, “Thanks, but no thanks.” But after he heard they were willing to invest $100,000 in the restaurant, he gave them the go-ahead.
“They were ripping things out, painting, bringing in new tables, chairs and barstools.” he says.
Tatasciore says that during the taping Ramsay was just like he is on television.
“He screams and hollers,” Tatasciore says. “Off-camera, he’s a pretty nice guy.”
One of the biggest changes Ramsay made was to trim the Shanty’s 130-item menu to just 13 items.
Tatasciore says he agrees 130 was too many items, but 13 was a bit extreme and after the camera crews left he says he added back some of the most popular items to bring the menu to 40 items.
“It’s good to keep it small and more manageable,” he says.
He says the whole event was a like a circus with curious neighbors and bystanders snapping photos of Ramsay during the five days he and his crew were at the Shanty. He says there was a bump in business after it was over as people stopped in to see what was going on.
“For the most part it was good for business,” Tatasciore says. “But would I do it again? Probably no.”