Cafe 36 - Kitchen Nightmares Update - Open or Closed?

Kitchen Nightmares Cafe 36

In this Kitchen Nightmares episode, Gordon Ramsay visits Cafe 36 in La Grange, Illinois.

Cafe 36 is owned by Terry and Carol Gilmer, a husband and wife duo who bought the restaurant two years ago.

It had been Terry’s dream to run a restaurant and at 58 years old he made it happen with Carol supporting him.

They have ploughed their life savings into their dream of opening a restaurant but they are losing money every day as they are lacking customers.

Terry doesn’t delegate and does all of the small tasks even when staff are around to do them.

There are problems with the kitchen staff, sanitation, food quality and wait times.

The restaurant is struggling to bring in customers and the owners have never paid themselves a wage from the business.

Gordon arrives and meets the owners and finds out they class themselves as an American Bistro.

The restaurant has up to 85 seats but they only have 11 booked in for the lunch service.

Gordon orders the special – a wild mushroom risotto, a duck salad and a salmon crepe, that the waiter honestly warns Gordon is nothing to be excited about.

Gordon notices the decorative plastic grapes are dusty and the dining plates are mismatched and cheap.

Gordon is left waiting for more than 40 minutes for his food and eventually it is served to him on a trolley.

The risotto is mushy and salty and the Duck Salad turns out to be a too sweet and bizarre combination of orange, strawberries and candied walnuts.

The salmon crepes arrive next and they are hideous and mushy and Gordon brands them as the Cr*p of the Day.

He is surprised to learn that the simple to make crepes are store bought.

Gordon meets the kitchen staff and gives feedback on the meal he has just eaten.

He is shocked to learn Pinto was trained in Italy as he made one of the worst risotto dishes he has ever tasted.

Gordon asks to see the risotto rice and it is a week old based on the date on the pack.

Regardless it was cooked and served to both Gordon and other customers.

More food is brought from the freezer that is dated from the previous week and Terry is surprised this is happening in his kitchen.

Gordon sits with Terry and Carol and finds out they bought the place for about $1.1m and they sold their home, one of their cars and cashed in their retirement accounts to buy the business.

Gordon says they need to keep their eye on the ball, with all their sacrifice more should be expected from their staff than serving 8 day old rice.

Gordon investigates the walk-in and freezer and finds food half frozen floating in water.

Pinto explains that it's "fresh frozen", everything is frozen and they are taking it out a portion at a time to defrost and cook.

Gordon tells him that this is the lazy way of serving food and Pinto has no answer for this.

Gordon arrives for a dinner service. He can’t understand the frozen system and tells the owners Pinto is not a good chef.

After 45 minutes the customers are yet to receive their food.

Chef Pinto and Sous Chef Barney don't work well together at all, there is very little communication in the kitchen.

Food that the customers do receive is quickly sent back to the kitchen.

Gordon notices fresh asparagus on the side and Pinto tells him it is the ‘veggie of the day’.

Gordon doesn’t understand why the most expensive vegetable on the market, that is also out of season, is the ‘veggie of the day’.

At the end of the dinner service, those who have been served have nothing good to say about the meals and those who haven’t received their food leave.

Gordon meets with staff and he tells them the change he would make is Pinto as his practices in the kitchen are the main issue with the restaurant.

The next day, Gordon plans to make a number of changes for that evenings service.

He starts by teaching the staff on how to make a mushroom risotto using fresh ingredients.

The next change is the serving, which is to be done by hand rather than with the trolleys.

The trolleys will be used instead for a new goat cheese salad, that will be prepared at the table.

Gordon then sits down with Terry and tells him he needs to be strong and control Pinto.

The night’s service begins and the goat cheese salad is a best seller with customers loving it.

The service is still as slow as the day before and the wait staff are apologetic to customers.

Pinto is disruptive in the kitchen and he still isn’t working as a team with his sous chef Barney.

Customers are upset as the food is served cold and a risotto entree is incorrectly served in an appetizer portion size.

Gordon must try and make Pinto and Barney see eye-to-eye and be able to work together.

The dinner service ends as badly as the night before and Brian, a wait staff, is frustrated.

He is honest with Terry telling him he hasn’t stepped up and Pinto needs to be fired.

Gordon meets with staff and asks Pinto how the service was.

He surprisingly says it was excellent and everyone worked well together.

Barney has a differing view and thinks that the service was terrible.

Gordon points out the service is too slow, the food is inconsistent and the restaurant is too dated to compete in the modern restaurant industry.

Gordon’s team work over night to create a brand new interior with a black and white theme, the booths have been re-upholstered and new chandeliers have been installed.

There is all new china including new matching plates.

Gordon has also created an updated version of their menu of classic dishes with a focus on in-season ingredients.

Pinto is given one last chance to turn it around and is expected to cook from the new menu.

For the relaunch night the expectations are high.

As the orders get to the kitchen, food comes out on time and the customers are happy.

An hour in and the kitchen returns to its old ways.

The kitchen goes quiet with no communication and the slow service trickles down to customers once again.

Pinto is doing his own thing while Barney is trying to do too many things, picking up the slack from Pinto.

Terry finally steps in to restore communication in the kitchen and helps them be more vocal and work together.

After the delay, customers eventually receive their food and they say it is worth the wait.

After the service, Gordon sits down with Terry and Carol for a heart to heart and they give him an expensive bottle of wine that he decides to keep there to be opened when he revisits.

He makes them promise to keep it for him for when he visits them again.

What Happened Next at Cafe 36?

At the end of the show, we are told that Pinto was fired and Barney was offered the Head Chef job but he left to finish his culinary degree.

He was replaced by Jorge Flores and Pinto was said to be working as a chef for a family in the area.

Yelp reviews after filming were mixed, with some complaints about the food.

Cafe 36 closed on 18 April 2009, blaming the economy and Gordon's changes to the restaurant.

On a forum, "Barney" reported that Terry was previously an Executive Chef at a country club for more than 20 years but was made to look like he had little to no industry knowledge during the episode.

He also revealed the personal reasons behind his fractured relationship with Pinto, comments Pinto had made about his wife and calling him as a "diner cook".

Cafe 36 aired on January 15 2009, the episode was filmed in February 2008 and is Kitchen Nightmares season 2 episode 11.

Read About More Kitchen Nightmares

Previous episode - Santé La Brea

Next episode - Hot Potato Cafe

This post was last updated in March 2023.


  1. Sad they didn't make. They seemed like a very genuine couple. This is my favorite Kitchen Nightmares episode.

    1. They may be a nice couple, but the owner was not a nice person. That one scene where he talks down to the earnest waiter is highly indicative of an insecure, small person. He is far more concerned about appearances, statuses, and titles. That he kept Pintos around and even defended him, despite so much criticism from the rest of the staff, just shows how much he doesn't respect his waiters, and I'm assuming it's because Pintos has a better paper pedigree. "You're a waiter; remember that." Seriously power-tripping.

      Further, he only lets go Pintos and makes changes because a bigger named chef, Ramsay, has come. I was glad to read that they're gone. Such small-mind should not succeed.

    2. How wonderful it must be to be able to draw such sweeping conclusions about the owner after having seen one episode of a TV show, filmed over a couple of days! Clearly, yours is not a small mind at all!

    3. "They may be a nice couple, but the owner was not a nice person. That one scene where he talks down to the earnest waiter is highly indicative of an insecure, small person. He is far more concerned about appearances, statuses, and titles. That he kept Pintos around and even defended him, despite so much criticism from the rest of the staff, just shows how much he doesn't respect his waiters, and I'm assuming it's because Pintos has a better paper pedigree. "You're a waiter; remember that." Seriously power-tripping.

      Further, he only lets go Pintos and makes changes because a bigger named chef, Ramsay, has come. I was glad to read that they're gone. Such small-mind should not succeed."

      Wow... you are an idiot. That waiter was running his mouth the whole time. He had absolutely no right to say what he did in the way that he did. He is a waiter.... easily replaceable. You can have your opinions, but you keep that stuff to yourself when you are in that position. I didn't disagree with what he said, but you keep your f'ing mouth shut unless you are asked. Know your role.

    4. I don't think Anonymous 4 August 2013 09:29 was entirely off-point.

      The waiter made his comment privately, away from customers and most other staff. He prefaced it being hard to say and making him uncomfortable, during a TV-show about the restaurant needing changes, and only after he had to deal with customers waiting 3+ hours for food--which, as far as we can tell, the owner hid from and apologized to nobody for the absolutely pathetic experience his business provided.

      Obviously, we're only offered limited and edited portions of the exchange, but I don't think what we were shown is necessarily inappropriate. For all we know, the owner hid in the back for the entire disaster--the waiter makes this accusation--and offered no support to his servers who had to deal with his mess. This seems likely, given the rosy picture painted of the owners and the lack of any such footage shown to us.

      "I'm sorry, boss, but I need to say this because I can't work like this" is not necessarily an inappropriate thing to say under such conditions. The server just had to deal with astonished customers leaving after waiting hours for nothing, and the server was the only face of the business to whom they could express their disappointment.

      We do not know that he was "running his mouth the whole time." Any confessional to-the-camera stuff was obviously encouraged and wasn't publicly displayed before the airing of the show.

      That's my impression. The owner's reaction rubbed me the wrong way as well. There were much larger concerns that should have elicited such a strong response, yet the server who said something (relatively minor to negligence and incompetence resulting in fear of bankruptcy) after an extremely stressful night was the only one who got a stern response and clear direction (shut up).

    5. Couldn't agree more about the husband not being a nice person. The husband put their financial security on the line, including selling their home, but ignored his wife when she told him the same things that Ramsay did and only ever said "Boo" to a waiter who was clearly on his side. "Remember who you are," is a revolting comment.
      Appalling behavior and I'm not inclined to ignore that kind of nastiness just because it's said in a soft voice.

    6. I'm definitely on the waiter's side. He may have not gone about it in the best way, but waiters get paid almost nothing.
      If the chef is taking too long to cook someone's food, the customers may respond by not tipping or tipping very little for something that has absolutely nothing to do with him.

    7. The man that was the owner, had a 'power trip' going, in that, he thought that because he both owned it, & had money, that he threw away the truth, when it came to the waiter, & his staff making good observations & suggestions!

      Who's sorry now, bozo, your ego /your own bad ideas, sunk your place, firmly (& you deserved it!), and left your staff unemployed!?

      He's hoping that you don't change, on your next venture,

    8. Oh yea and the 30yo bottle Gordon shuda took it

  2. I it would have been great for a revisit and Girdon helps them set up another place of business and ensure their success....I guess dreams dont come true.... so sad so sad.....

    1. How on earth did the manage to blow 1.1 million on that place? Where did all of that money go? They should have bought a Mc'Donalds franchise. They would have been making money!

    2. Spot onAnonymous25 April 2014 07:23! A McD's is a license to print money 90% of the time!

    3. There's 2 sides to that coin I under stand why he'd freeze food but 2 ways round it don't order so much then anything not sold today make a special out of it next day buying in crepes is just lazy he should be embrassed if I trained him I'd be freaked

  3. That was such a lovely couple who truly did deserve to have their restaurant work. Although I'm glad that pinto left, I am truly saddened to see that the restaurant closed

    1. Being a lovely or cute couple doesn't change the fact they were clueless about how to run a business, let along a restaurant. Piece of advice, don't blow 1m++ in a restaurant if you're as clueless as those two.

  4. I'm from there and the economy hit Chicago worst in 2008 and LaGrange isn't the best suburb for fine dining. It truly is a shame that it didn't work out, such a cute couple.

  5. I just re-watched this episode for the 3rd time since airing. Chef Ramsay sure did love this couple. A damn shame it didn't make it. I think a revisit would still be in order, if for no other reason, that to just share the wine and gather some insight into the end-game. God speed Terry and Carol. May your future endeavors bring you success and prosperity... you deserve it.

  6. Having never been in food service before it's shocking that these people didn't have a consultant come in ahead of time to tell them the basic truth that they needed an experienced manager to run the restaurant. They spent $1.1 million and had no clue that their restaurant - their business - was a complete failure. It doesn't matter that they happen to be nice people. It doesn't matter that from time to time their good friends got a decent meal or that something came out on time. It's not the economy. There are plenty of restaurants in LaGrange that have faired the storm. The bottom line is these people should never have invested their lives and their money in a restaurant. We were never told what they did for a living before this but if you were a gynecologist why the hell would you start a TV repair shop?! No one wants to hurt anyone's feelings but when you waste over a million dollars, someone needs to say the words "you should have donated your money to feeding the homeless". Just don't have Pinto do the cooking.

    1. Amen to that! As well, its sad that their "friend" base didnt have any constructive input over the whole period before and during this venture. Dont we all aim to gather people around ourselves in life who support? And yet it seems that none of them advised a little market research before hand, a business specialist during and constructive criticism while having a meal. Then again, I did get the sense they come from a more "status" oriented background and then it all makes a little more sense. Super friendly couple but damn, you are able to scramble up 1.1 million for a restaurant but during life you didnt gain the required skill sets showing that you earned it the hard working way. I am sure im not the only one seeing these kind of examples and shake the head in disbelieve on how it is that people like this are able and that the able ones are not.

  7. some of the comments are from people obliviously NEVER been in the restaurant business. It's extremely frustrating being out front when you cant get the food from the kitchen. The customer looks at you as if you have any power the do anything about it...which you don't...and i'm sure before Chef Ramsay came in..Pinto would tell yell at the waiter asking where his food is .."you will get it when you get it"..Think the waiter can tell the costumer that??

    1. I agree with you completely. People who have never worked in the industry just can't fully understand what the pressures are. The owners may have been nice people, but you simply cannot open a restaurant, especially an expensive one that focuses on "fine dining" wherever you want. The failure rate of new restaurants is about 70% within the first 12-18 months. You need to know the area well and what the locals want, they ultimately decide if you succeed. The price has to be right for the area. And the wait staff always suffers if there is an issue in the kitchen. That guy Pinto had no business being there that long and the owners should have recognized that. But this failure I'm going to blame on Ramsay. With his experience, he knows what works and what doesn't. Regardless of how much he liked the couple, he should have driven home that the fancy theme had to go. Even in a good economy, that kind of restaurant was doomed in that area, and the show was filmed when the economy was at it's worst. I feel bad for Terry and Carol, but a simple coat of paint was not going to save the place.

    2. You're right. This couple ARE NOT SUITED to this industry. They should have hired a manager to handle all the day to day business decisions. Then the old man could've satisfied himself by vacuuming the floors and cleaning bathrooms, and otherwise standing around in his suit and tie looking important. The wife could've been a nice meet & greet lady. She's sweet.

  8. Watching this episode right now on BBC America. I was hoping that Terry and Carol would have succeeded with this place. Sad for such a nice couple to learn the restaurant business the hard way. I wish them all the best in their next endeavors.
    Okay, yes, Brian the server was talking out of turn, when he complained to Terry about Pinto the executive chef, but since his customers weren't getting their orders, it can be very frustrating for him as a server. Brian wanted Terry to take a more active role in running the business; to take control more more often. As he said, "I wish Terry would tell us what to do, instead of letting the inmates run the asylum." It may not have been his his place to say it, but here's a staff member who's actually showing passion about the business, unlike Pinto...
    As for Pinto, I wonder, did he con his way into the kitchen like that one kid in a Kitchen Nightmares UK episode, by playing up skills that he learned on TV as actual experience? Pinto had no business being in a kitchen, let alone running one! He and Barney didn't work together, did not communicate, and did not show that he cared; as a result, the food would never be out on time! And Pinto said service was "excellent". Unbelievable! Again, I wish Terry and Carol all the best.

  9. The fact that they employed Pinto for as long as they did shows the incompetence. Also, I have an issue with the way Terry reacted to the waiter who pointed out that Pinto was clueless. After all, they were in the midst of taping a "makeover show" and who's to say that Ramsay didn't encourage the waiter to say something. Does anyone not understand that 95% of the footage winds up on the editing room floor? I'm also surprised given the state of the economy at the time of filming that Ramsay didn't try to steer the restaurant in a more casual direction. Even in the best of times, "Fine Dining" has a limited appeal to the population. It makes me wonder if he searched the area for the competition, like he supposedly does in other episodes, to find out would possibly work based on the location and surrounding demographic. I'm not saying he should have told them to turn it into a burger shack, but most people realize when they see the staff/owners in a suit & tie, they are in for an expensive evening. The owners did seem as though they were good people, Ramsay sure took a liking to them. I wonder if that liking of them led to any behind-the-scenes financial help from Ramsay. He could have bailed them out and not even noticed the money was gone. But something tells me that his liking for them didn't go that far. He seems like the type of guy that could see a person drowning and couldn't be bothered throwing a life preserver unless there was something in it for him.

    1. Yeah, I have to agree with you. I could be wrong, but the great Gordon Ramsay doesn't strike me as the type to do much for the underprivileged. I live in America so I can't say what he does in Britain and maybe he gives anonymously. There might be leprechauns and unicorns too, but........

    2. "He could have bailed them out and not even noticed the money was gone. But something tells me that his liking for them didn't go that far. He seems like the type of guy that could see a person drowning and couldn't be bothered throwing a life preserver unless there was something in it for him."

      LOL, wtf?

    3. He's there to help & give guidance, not hand out money.& if you notice from numerous episodes,money is spent on remodeling,equipment,advertising, etc. What more do you expect from the man?

  10. I'm watching it now, and one thing that stands out is the owner needed to get over himself. His comments to the waiter was very condescending.

    1. When I saw that sequence I had the instant sequence it was stage - I was a practice run to get Terry to be more assertive. It was clear throughout that Pinto was the problem and that Terry couldn't/wouldn't do anything about it. Normally we would see Gordon get stuck in to the owners about sorting that issue. It is clear that all those discussions were cut because Gordon wanted to use a gentle touch and to show them in the best light.

      It would have been better if they had shown some of the events that lead up to the confrontation though. As shown, it really came off as being very awkward and completely out of character.

      In the end though, Terry and his wife were just out of their depth and shouldn't have been in the business.

  11. Watching this episode again for the umpteenth time. Reading previous comments, saddened for owners that tried to reach for something different in their lives to retire with. Congrats on even trying Terry and Carol!!!! Pinto shouldn't have been there. Period!!! Being unaware owners and leaders he pulled the wool over their naive eyes. The waiter also was too arogant for the "newbies". Put some of the ridiculously priced cost of purchase, find a cheaper location, hire a professional staff and team that has chops and a great manager! My husband runs a plant of over 650 employees, this episode just gets our blood boiling watching all of the treatment between the owners, waiters, sous chef (the REAL chef), and Pinto (the fake food prepper - NOT a chef that's for sure). RESPECT gets Results!

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  13. the waiter was way out of line. I would have fired him on the spot. I've owned successful businesses for several years and for the restaurant biz the key is the food. You can have a crap place but if its good food, people will come.

    The owners were very good people but the restaurant biz is dog eat dog and many fail for many reasons.

    The owners didn't have the leadership skills to make this work. Hard not to pull for such nice people. Online comments are nasty and arrogant and many of the comments show how clueles people are.

  14. The waiter shouldn't have said what he said in public, he should have given his opinion in private..

  15. The waiter pulled the owner aside from everyone else and voiced his frustration like you would do to your boss in just about nay field. That waiter was far more patient because I would have quit and would have laughed heartily at my next job at them closing.

    Don't open a restaurant if you have no experience, plain and simple.

  16. They seemed a nice how ever restaurant business can be ruthless a lot of it means going with times and changing the menu and competition is so high.

  17. What is wrong with people, couldn't you see how much crap that the waiter/s had to take when they had to invent excuses or say the same thing all the time? Some customers had waited 3 1/2 hours, do you have any idea how long that is, when you have to keep them from walking? That waiter had every right to vent his frustration, he had the restaurant owners' interest in mind, not having a go at the owners! And he was really subtly trying to say what all the staff were thinking, and was very obvious to us who and what their problem was, that Pinto is no chef....Why are there still doubters? The waiter had every right to say what he did, it had been going on for years, and they had done nothing about it, losing money because if his inability to be a qualified chef, simple.

  18. Got to agree with the earlier comment about the couple. Appear nice but the staff giving a private and CORRECT opinion was completely talked down to. You're meant to value staff as a restaurant wouldn't run without any of them. Different pay but equal importance

  19. Maybe Brian was not right to say Terry what to do on his position, but he was absolutely right on firing Pinto.

  20. I can't believe that the owners actually blamed Chef Ramsay's changes on the reason why they failed. The issue was the quality of the food so I wouldn't be surprised if they blindly followed another "executive" chef and believed every word out of their mouth because they had a grand title

  21. Omg what a shame!! I hope the couple are doing ok now :(

  22. It's hard braking! Like Gordon said, these two are so unselfish and truly in love! It's sad and I think sometimes Gordon Ramsay gets there just a little bit too late. I have hope this hasn't made the two of them suffer even more now that they're older and they should be enjoying their lives. I hope the heartache doesn't follow them. I don't know of any of the shows that I've rooted more for than this couple! I hope they're well, wherever they are. ❤️

  23. Everyone saying what a nice couple and great people they are, need to keep in mind this.. They had no clue what they were doing, Gordon came and turned things around, remodeled their restaurant.. Then after, sales declined and mixed reviews.. Then they closed, and now blame Gordons changes for putting them out of business when they called him for help to begin with, because they would soon be closed. Let that sink in.

  24. Pinto is a compuisive liar, that's for sure. There's no way he had any cooking training. And we see him constantly lying on basically anything : on how much longer he'll need to make a dish, on the preparations he's made, etc...
    I seriously can't believe these people who splurge all their retirement funds on a restaurant. I mean, really ? That's how you wanna spend your old days ?

  25. That bottle of wine they offered Ramsey at the end (Chateau d'Yquem 1976) has an average price of $920. I'd be too embarrassed to accept it from a restaurant that was financially desperate too if I was Gordon.


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