There were times during the Wednesday night watch party at Wichita’s dog-friendly Fetch Bistro when awkwardness hung heavy in the air. People avoided eye contact. No one talked. No one even barked.
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, as expected, had ripped the restaurant and its owners and staff to shreds while building his case for why they needed his help as part of his restaurant renovation show “24 Hours to Hell and Back.”’ He cursed. He shouted. He made faces and revealed kitchen filth. He held up hair he found in his food.
“I’ve never seen such a disorganized mess in my life!” he proclaimed on national television.
It was brutal.
But by the end of the episode, the crowd of customers, friends and well-wishers (and their dogs) who had packed into Fetch Bistro, 7718 E. 37th St. North, to watch the show with its subjects were cheering, smiling and wishing their hosts well.
Fetch had survived Ramsay and had done so with grace and humility.
“I thought there toward the first of the show: ‘I hope some people don’t just throw something at me,’” said owner Greg Buss, who was portrayed in a particularly harsh light.
“Greg’s been threatening to leave town for months now,” his wife, Pamela, added.
A large crowd gathered on Wednesday night for the watch party at the restaurant, and before the episode aired on the FOX network, attendees paid $20 for an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring the meatloaf, chicken and biscuits and other specialties Ramsay and his staff had introduced to the menu during their visit last fall.
When it was time for the episode to start, emcee Bryan Foley jokingly encouraged everyone to take a drink whenever Ramsay cursed during the show.
“Within 20 minutes, you should be nice and buzzed,” he said.
Greg Buss admitted he was nervous. He knew Ramsay was going to focus on the disorganization in his business and on his relationship with Pamela, which would sometimes become strained when things got tough at the restaurant.
He knew he was going to look like a pretty bad guy, and he thought he was ready.
When it was over, he was smiling, though he admitted it was hard not to flee the restaurant at times.
“It was worse than I thought, actually,” he said. “I just didn’t recall half of it, because it’s 24 hours and so much is being blown at you. You really don’t know what just happened.”
The show started with Ramsay driving into Wichita and explaining that his help was needed at Fetch Bistro, a restaurant with a good concept but poor execution.
He entered the restaurant, as he does in every episode, in disguise — this time wearing a paste-on goatee — and sat down at a table to order. In the Wichita episode, he was accompanied by locals Matt and Jennifer Bump, who were at the watch party with their daughters and their dog, Cece.
Jennifer had been approached at Towne East while shopping with her girls last fall by two producers asking if she’d be interested in appearing on a restaurant reality show. She was skeptical at first, but after doing some research, she and her husband, Matt, decided it was legitimate. They agreed to appear, and the day of filming, they briefly rehearsed with Ramsay, then drove to the restaurant separately to sit down and order. Cece came, too.
The episode showed Ramsay expressing disgust with his food and finding hairs in it, both human and dog.
“There’s more hair in my food than on my chin,” he said to the Bumps.
Then Ramsay took off his costume and revealed himself to the Busses, who appeared shocked. He ordered customers and staff out of the restaurant and showed incriminating footage taken with hidden cameras. Then the renovation clock started.
Three times during the broadcast, the audio cut away for storm warnings in Finney and Ford counties, causing the crowd gathered to groan and boo. They missed large chunks of the dialogue.
“Only in Kansas, right, people?” said emcee Foley.
During a particularly hard-to-watch segment, Ramsay dressed Greg Buss down for treating his wife poorly and snapping at her in the restaurant. Greg stared at the television screen, expressionless. People were quiet.
But after the commercial break, things got better. The next segment showed a heartfelt exchange between the couple in which Greg apologized to his wife, told her he loved her and promised to not let the stress of the business interfere with their marriage. They hugged on screen, and the crowd applauded and shouted, “Greg!”
Soon, the restaurant was turning around. The kitchen was appointed with all new dishes. Cook Sue Smith took charge of the line. The staff learned how to cook the new menu items. The Busses eagerly adopted some of Ramsay’s suggestions. And the interior got a total makeover.
“If Pam and Greg stick with the system, I truly feel like the dog days are over at Fetch Bistro,” Ramsay said as he pulled out of town.
By the time the episode ended, the mood had lifted, and the Busses were happy — and hopeful that the episode could help give them traction to grow their business and keep the doors open.
The show was a vivid illustration for them of how far they’ve come since November, Greg Buss said.
“It is kind of fun to see the whole picture, the whole way it was,” Greg said. “We actually are doing a much better job at things that we didn’t realize we were slacking at.”
If you are a cable subscriber who missed the episode — or want to hear the dialogue that was muted by the weather warnings — you can watch a replay of the episode on Fox’s website.