Forget Top Chef. The winner of NBC’s upcoming America’s Next Great Restaurant gets to open a three-unit chain with money supplied in part by celebrity chef Bobby Flay and Chipotle Mexican Grill boss Steve Ells, with these two remaining on board as investor/partners. We know you’ll watch this show. The question is: If there’s a second season, how can you get on it to compete?
NBC was calling its latest restaurant reality show United Plates of America back when we wrote about it in January (Win this Show and the Top Chefs will Work for You ). We hope you took our advice and auditioned for the show then, because the prize is colossal.
Not only does the winning participant get to see his or her idea for a new chain restaurant come to fruition—and receive an ownership position in it without having to put up any capital. There’s no waiting for the payoff. Three units of the new chain will open simultaneously on the night of the show’s grand finale. Presumably, the show’s vast TV audience will make for an opening night like no other and subsequently provide built-in clientele for the restaurants.
It’s taken six months to finalize plans for this show. But now it has acquired both a new (and better) name—America’s Next Great Restaurant—and the guarantee of a place on NBC’s prime time schedule. The specifics aren’t nailed down just yet, but NBC says the show will air “later in the 2010-2011 season.” Which is to say, its time slot depends on how well other NBC fall season shows do or don’t perform.
America’s Next Great Restaurant already has a cast, garnered from a series of auditions conducted this spring in New York City; Franklin, TN; Raleigh, NC; Columbus, OH; Warrenville, IL; Mission, KS; Denver; and Burbank, CA. The casting call welcomed all comers. “You don’t need to have any experience in restaurants or business or anything,” said casting director Nick Gilhool before the tour started. “If you have an idea that you are passionate about that you think would make a great restaurant that you would like to go to, you should come down and pitch it.”
Many did and, since the show is produced by Magical Elves, the people who bring us Top Chef, we can expect a wacky mix of contestants and lose-and-you’re-out challenges. The big difference with this show is that the winner doesn’t just earn a mythical title; his or her idea is transformed into three brick-and-mortar restaurants in the final episodes.
The judges will be more involved than they have been on other restaurant and cooking competition reality shows. They not only pick the winner; they personally invest in his or her restaurant concept. Initially, the network said “five important restaurant and business leaders” would judge the show. Now it’s down to four. Three are celebrity chefs: Bobby Flay, who needs no introduction; Curtis Stone, whose reality show work includes “Biggest Loser” and “Celebrity Apprentice”; and Lorena Garcia, whom NBC describes as a “leading Latina chef” who “promotes healthy eating.”
One thing these three judges have in common: little or no involvement with chain restaurants at any point in their careers. Luckily, the fourth judge is Chipotle Mexican Grill founder, chairman and c.e.o. Steve Ells, arguably the most accomplished chain restaurant executive of his generation.
We know restaurant operators will want to watch this show. But we suggest you do so with an eye toward getting on the second season of America’s Next Great Restaurant. It’s one thing to win a reality show and get a ton of publicity and no-cost capital. But it’s even better if you wind up with Bobby Flay and Steve Ells as your equity partners. Trust us; this is going to be a career-making prize for whoever prevails. Next year, it could be you.