The Shanty on 19th

Gordon Ramsay and the Realities of Reality Television

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The bearded guy in the Lehigh Valley Phantoms jersey stared down at his plate of burnt, blackened scallops and, with disgust, exclaimed “Is this a joke?”

To nearby patrons, it could have been the rude ramblings of just another loud-mouthed hockey fanatic. But The Shanty on 19th owner, Joe Tatasciore soon learned these words would mark the beginning of an epic journey to renovate the iconic Allentown restaurant that is situated about a half mile from Muhlenberg College.

It was restaurant makeover artist and world renowned chef Gordon Ramsay behind the disguise of beard and hockey jersey. Ramsay and his team had selected Tatasciore’s restaurant for a three-month filming process pieced together with hidden cameras, interviews, a 24-hour makeover process, revamped menu, and a grand re-opening.

“You really didn’t know what to expect,” said Tatasciore, who agreed to an interview to reveal behind-the-scene details of the filming process for what is now the second episode of season two for Ramsay’s FOX-TV reality show; “24 Hours to Hell and Back.”

Tatasciore eventually implemented many of Ramsay’s recommendations for the restaurant that has been around Allentown’s West End area of 19th Street in one form or another since 1968. But Tatasciore wrote off much of the reality show as unreality.

The TV show’s official episode listing describes the bistro as a “failing restaurant” on the “brink of disaster.” However, Tatasciore said the show tended to exaggerate their issues, and that The Shanty was never at a serious risk of closing down.

“It was a lot of BS… that’s TV,” says Tatasciore. “We were doing well before the show, and business is doing better.”

The team was there for five days of taping, for about 15 hours a day, and Tatasciore describes the filming process as a chaotic scene.

Tatasciore claimed the show was very pieced together, cutting out a lot of what was filmed, including Tatasciore’s bizarre one-on-one with Gordon Ramsay in his SUV at three o’clock in the morning. The original cut had Ramsay trying to breathalyze Tatasciore, bringing him to a nearby church with four cameramen inside. The episode shows Tatasciore drinking at the bar during service on a few occasions, and he explains that the show wrongly framed him as a person with an alcohol addiction.

“I want to make a shirt that says ‘I’m not an alcoholic, I’m not in debt’” says Tatasciore.

The show, Tatasciore said, also failed to mention that his wife, who was managing her jewelry business, was also in the works of building a coffee shop, and Tatasciore was helping her build it at the time of the show. Since the renovations, his wife works at the restaurant about four days a week.

The after-effects of the show proved to help the business, Tatasciore said, with people coming in from Delaware, New York, and New Jersey to meet Joe and everyone on the show.

“The night the show aired, it was so busy,” he said. “I didn’t watch the episode until a week later.”

When the producers were first scouting out the area, Tatasciore did not want his restaurant to be part of the show, but once he found out that they would invest $100,000 in the business, he gave them the go-ahead. The budget funded new décor, tables, chairs, barstools, booths, updated kitchen equipment and better quality food.

Another change for the restaurant was its menu, cutting its large 130-item menu into just 13. After the show, Tatasciore added a few of the popular items back to the menu, bringing it to 36 items.

“The original menu was a bit much, but now it’s a lot more manageable,” he says.

Executive chef Kennedy Agos, when asked to interview, declined because she said she wasn’t feeling very well. The episode mentions the stress of working in the kitchen tended to amplify her heart condition.

“We still fight sometimes” says Tatasciore. “But at the end of the day, we hug it out.”

Tatasciore’s father, Joe Sr., was also working at the restaurant and helping out, but was given the boot by Ramsay after cameras caught him talking about Agos behind her back and saying to customers how bad the food was. Since the show, Tatasciore says that he has found a new job and doesn’t help out much with the business anymore.

Currently, The Shanty on 19th has proven to be a success story of the restaurants Gordon Ramsay has visited. In his other experiences on his last show “Kitchen Nightmares,” some restaurants were able to bounce back while others went out of business shortly after his visit.

Since the show, the restaurant has received mixed views online. In a Kitchen Nightmares update, customers seem to enjoy the burger and fries, and the new décor is an improvement, but there are still complaints about the service and some of the food items, including “mussels undercooked and tasted rotten” and a “very high noise level.”

The makeover happened around late October this year, so perhaps there are still some adjustments for all of the changes made in such a short time period.

“The overall experience of the show was awesome,” says Tatasciore. “But would I do it again? Absolutely not.”

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