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Documentaries & Non-Fiction Series

Restaurant Startup Preview: “Young Hustlers” [+ Exclusive Antonia Lofaso Interview] 

Photo Credit: Jesse Grant/CNBC
Photo Credit: Jesse Grant/CNBC

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Last week’s “The Comeback Cook” was a nail-biter. Sometimes I hate that Joe and Tim have to pick one duo to go with; sometimes I wish they could pick both. But the stakes wouldn’t be quite the same — and the show probably wouldn’t be as exciting — so, I get it. While last week was about second chances, this week focuses on two up-and-coming businesses run by twenty-somethings.

I got the chance to speak to culinary consultant Antonia Lofaso earlier this month. She talks about why she wanted to be involved with the show this season, what she’s hoping to offer to the teams and what a culinary consultant really does.

TV GOODNESS: How did this all come together? What was the impetus for you getting involved with Restaurant Startup?

Antonia Lofaso: They basically reached out and asked me to come in. I had seen a couple of episodes in the first season and have always been a fan of Joe Bastianich and Tim Love from a professional standpoint. They’re such amazing examples of stars who have worked throughout the United States and abroad. When I knew it was the two of them, I was like, ‘Absolutely. I’d love to take a meeting.’ They let me know what the scope of the work was and what I would be doing. For the first time I got really excited about just being able to talk about what I know all day long and mentor and help other people through the process.

This industry is so, so difficult. The scope of the work and what it really takes to make it, I feel like sometimes people sugarcoat that scenario. A lot of times, people think it’s so great and so amazing to be in the restaurant industry and people don’t understand the work it actually entails. For me to be able to be vocal on that platform, I was really excited about because it’s basically what I do all day long.

When I met with the network, one of their questions was, ‘Why would you want to do a show like this?’ I thought that was a really interesting question because a lot of times, so much reality television is just people being cast in a position not really based on their qualifications, more just, ‘I want to be on television.’ When I was asked that it put my mind at ease a little bit more. I felt like I was working with a production group that was really interested in having somebody on board who was going to take this role very seriously. It [made] me feel like this role was real, like how reality television should be.

I was excited to be able to take that role as a consultant. That’s what I really am. In real life, there really are restaurant and chef consultants. They work for different companies or different restauranteurs that are looking to either fix or restructure their business. You’ve got people out there who own restaurants and sometimes they hire executive chefs. They hire consultants to get any overview. The overview is, ‘This is our concept. This is our brand. This is the art graphics. This is our menu. This is how to run the front of the house. These are our numbers.’

A consultant can come in there and see where they’re strong and where they’re weak. That’s really what I do. I get notes from Joe and Tim, specifically about what they like and what they don’t like, these are their concerns. I get a full overview of what menu they’re looking at in whatever respective state they live in or potential restaurant or quick start restaurant, what their ideas are, what their menu is, what their costs look like and what they’re looking to see and change and what they’re looking to have shine through for the pop up or launch.

What I love so much about it is this idea is how a lot of potential chefs are getting the interest of restauranteurs. This is a very real way chefs go about business. There are chefs all over Los Angeles right now who do pop up dinners throughout the city. They try to gain popularity or momentum based on their food and the buzz and through that a lot of great, successful restaurants have been born. Heart and the Hunter is an example here in Los Angeles of chefs that have been trying to do this pop up circuit and get potential restauranteurs excited and into a bidding war.

Here, they’ve got money and they’ve got the full amount time to basically show what their restaurant could possibly look like, what their menu would look like, how they would run front of the house, how they would put their costs in order and a sample of what the food would taste like. They want a mock service. From that Joe and Tim can really see are these people we want to be in business with and then you get an investment or not.

“Young Hustlers” synopsis, from CNBC:

Tonight, restaurateurs and investors Joe Bastianich and Tim Love struggle to decide between two young and hungry teams from the restaurant capital of the world: New York City. Rock the Kasbah is an edgy Moroccan food catering company with dreams of conquering Manhattan. Yeah Dawg!!! is the funky creation of two sisters who think they make the best plant-based hot dog on the planet. Which team will get the opportunity to open a pop-up? And will they get the financial backing they need to take a bite out of the Big Apple?

Restaurant Startup airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on CNBC.

Extended Sneak Peek:

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