Celebrity chef and host of Kitchen Nightmares, Colin Fassnidge, has bluntly said businesses need to be ‘reactive’ after the owner of a cafe he helped claimed she’d lost $50,000 since appearing on the show.
Virginia Cheong owns Cafe de Vie, in Homebush, in Sydney’s inner west, which was recently visited by Fassnidge and a crew from Channel Seven.
The episode, which was filmed in late May and aired last Tuesday, showed the cafe undergoing a major rebrand to offer Lebanese food only, with the business now known as Cafe Tabouli.
But Ms Cheong, who is of Chinese heritage, said she had no experience running a Lebanese restaurant, and was only left with a menu of six items to go off after the show ended.
‘Our business dropped instantly after they stopped filming,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘We were losing about $4,500 a week in business. One week we were down $6,000.’
Virginia Cheong (right with husband left) owns Cafe de Vie, in Homebush, in Sydney’s inner west, that was recently visited by celebrity chef and host of the show Colin Fassnidge (centre)
She did acknowledge rising interest rates, and an increase in the cost of living also added to their financial woes.
Fassnidge, who Ms Cheong said was ‘very kind and compassionate’, spoke with Nova FM radio hosts Fitzy and Wippa about the aftermath for Cafe Tabouli.
‘It was a Chinese owned café serving dirty, terrible, unhygienic Middle Eastern bread and Italian food. It was also losing, they hadn’t taken a wage in six months,’ he said.
One decision made by producers that Ms Cheong said has hurt the business was moving the coffee machine to the back of the cafe, out of sight for customers.
‘We were selling about 38kg of coffee a week, but now that’s down to 15kg,’ she said.
But Fassnidge said Ms Cheong should be ‘reactive’ and can rearrange her cafe if it was affecting business.
‘(Her) husband is a tiler and his wage was keeping the cafe going. So this thing of they’re losing all this money because we moved the coffee machine, mate move the coffee machine back,’ he said.
Fassnidge said it wasn’t his idea to rebrand the business but the guests who tried the new menu in the episode loved the food.
‘The way that the restaurant world is at the minute like you can come in, you can do a paint job you can do a new menu,’ he said.
‘But not everyone’s gonna survive, that’s the brutality of the industry we’re in.’
He said he felt for Ms Cheong and her husband who he said had been ‘backed into a hole’, but said business owners needed to be take control if something wasn’t working.
‘I feel sad that Virginia has to close, but she was closing anyway. You know, it’s not the outcome we want and I really liked Virginia and it’s a shame,’ the celebrity chef said.
Fassnidge is seen comforting Ms Cheong during the program. She has said her business has suffered after the show aired
Ms Cheong took over the business four years ago when her cousin, the former owner, suffered a heart attack.
She admitted the cafe had been struggling for some time, including before she took charge.
The former menu offered Italian and Lebanese cuisine, but also had burgers and traditional breakfast items available.
When it was visited by Fassnidge, he joked the restaurant had ‘multiple personalities’ – something Ms Cheong said has only gotten worse.
‘We’re having this identity crisis again, are we a cafe, or are we a Middle Eastern restaurant?’ she said.
‘It’s even more confusing than before, and the customers are confused too.’
Cafe de Vie is now known as Cafe Tabouli after it was rebranded to sell Lebanese food
Ms Cheong had signed up to be on Kitchen Nightmares because she was a fan of Gordon Ramsay, who hosts the US and UK version of the show, and wanted someone to give her direction and help resolve the conflict between staff, specifically with her head chef Tony.
Tony, who appeared excited about the menu change in the show, has since left.
She said the first two months after the show ended was ‘dire’, but they had managed to restore some business by adding burgers and other items back to the menu.
But still the business is struggling and they’ve had to drop prices.
‘We are hugely in debt,’ Ms Cheong said.
‘For two months we had no chef and I was doing the cooking.
Ms Cheong appeared excited at the rebrand in the show, but said she was left a menu with just six items
‘I have really bad arthritis in my hand and when you’re doing 14 and 16-hour shifts, it’s a killer.’
At the end of the segment the show said that four months down the track, ‘Cafe Tabouli is busier than ever’.
Ms Cheong said that was ‘incorrect’, but they were in a better position now than immediately after filming ended.
Her cafe’s rebrand has not gone down well with customers, with some labelling the business a ‘joke’.
‘Some have told my partner it was the biggest mistake,’ Ms Cheong said.
She admits that she hasn’t given her new business venture ‘my all’, but feels like she was given only ‘part of a vision’.
‘I’m trying to understand why people won’t come and they’re telling me this is not a Lebanese restaurant,’ she said.
‘I don’t want to go back to the old model we had because it wasn’t working. I’d like the public to weigh in on it, what should we do?’
A Seven spokesperson said: ‘Kitchen Nightmares Australia has given six struggling business owners on the brink of collapse access to industry expertise, advice and solutions to help put them back on their feet.
‘The hospitality industry has been doing it tough and our goal is to encourage all Aussies to get out and support local business.’
Her cafe’s rebrand has not gone down well with customers, with some labelling the business a ‘joke’