J Willy's - Kitchen Nightmares Update - Open or Closed?

Kitchen Nightmares J Willy's

In this Kitchen Nightmares episode, Gordon Ramsay visits J Willy's in South Bend, Indiana.

J Willy's is a barbecue restaurant owned by husband-and-wife team Rick and Tricia and their friend John William.

South Bend is a middle-class town made famous by the University of Notre Dame, which is a few miles up the road from J Willy’s.

After they opened the restaurant, they were busy and the business was making money each year consistently.

The day-to-day running of the restaurant is left to John as Rick and Tricia live over three hours away, where they own another restaurant.

The couple assumed that John would be able to uphold the service standards and the food quality.

They believed the restaurant would continue to make money but John has run the venture into the ground.

John admits that it has being tough as they were struggling.

They weren’t really bringing in cash so they don't have a proper chef in the kitchen.

The cook Steve uses cans and bought in sauces to get food out as quick as possible.

With the increasing negative reviews, the customer numbers declined heavily.

Between the three of them they have invested all of the money they have.

Gordon arrives and thinks that the restaurant looks like it closed down ten years ago.

He isn't impressed with the desperate flashing sign out the front.

He meets John and Rick and Tricia and he sits down to read the menu and order food.

Gordon isn't impressed at the photos on the menu and orders a loaded baked potato pizza, beef ribs and a pulled pork cheese boat.

While waiting for his food, Gordon notices the sad and grim atmosphere of the restaurant.

He comments that the carpet looks like “a thousand Buffalos walked over it”.

Before he tries the food he asks a priest at a nearby table to bless his food before he eats it.

The food is terrible and strange looking and the pizza is covered in ranch dressing.

The ribs are untrimmed and have a bland, generic barbecue sauce and the pulled pork sandwich is smothered in processed cheese.

After tasting the food, Gordon refuses to let the priests table eat the pulled pork sandwich they ordered and stops them before they eat the food.

Gordon discovers that all of the food is canned or frozen and the barbecue sauce comes in a huge plastic container from a wholesaler.

In the kitchen, it is clear that John has cut corners in order to save money.

John says the menu is designed to cut a lot of labor out since there is no chef.

All of the kitchen staff describe themselves as cooks as they are just reheating food.

Dissatisfied with the answers found in the kitchen, Gordon takes the owners aside, hoping to determine the root of the problem.

Tricia says the problem is John as he lacks the passion to run the business.

John argues that it is hard to be passionate without any money and the business going downhill.

They reveal that they’ll be $1.2 million dollars in debt and they will lose their house if the business shuts down.

The couple state that they do not have any children as they are too busy babysitting two different restaurants.

Gordon observes a dinner service hoping to see if it would give him more answers as to why the restaurant is failing.

In the kitchen, all of the ingredients on the pizza are frozen or from a can or bottle.

There are cheap cuts of chicken and John admits to cutting corners with the food.

The food is sent out quick and Gordon compares the kitchen to a production line.

Most of the food were sent back by dissatisfied customers.

They didn’t like the mushiness and greasiness of the food and how cold the dishes were.

After the miserable dinner service, Gordon calls all of the staff together for a meeting.

The staff admit they were embarrassed by the service.

They say that it is getting harder at the restaurant as the pay checks keep getting slimmer.

Rick tries to blame John for the failure but the staff stand up for him and say that Rick isn't here.

Rick is defensive and says he can't come to the restaurant as he lives 3 and a half hours away and relies on John.

Gordon tells all three owners that they should all be ashamed of the state of the restaurant.

He asks if they need to get someone else in to run it.

John tells Gordon that he still wants to run the restaurant but that he needs help.

After the meeting Gordon inspects the kitchen storage.

The fridge isn't cold, there are old potato skins, a box of rotten tomatoes and peppers and blood in trays of meat.

Gordon tells the Rick and John to throw out all of the old food and clean the kitchen to prove their passion for the restaurant.

The next day Gordon meets with the owners at a Church and asks the owners to clear their conscience.

John wants to change and Tricia and Rick want John to step up.

After gaining a much deeper understanding of the kitchen’s situation, Gordon begins to implement his plan to turn the business around for good.

In the kitchen, Gordon brings in fresh ingredients and teaches the staff how to make barbecue sauce from scratch.

In addition to the new barbeque sauce, he also teaches them a new burger special made from all fresh ingredients to be served at the evening's service.

As guests arrive for dinner, the kitchen prepares the new burger specials.

The burgers are popular with the customers and they loved it.

An hour into the service, the orders become too much and Steve panics, causing disorganization in the kitchen.

After they rush to fulfil the orders, the burgers are sent out undercooked or overcooked.

It is not long before they run out of the ingredients to make the burgers.

Instead of the fresh special they lower the standards and begin sending out prepared burgers on sourdough bread and frozen fries.

Things quickly spiral out of control as Gordon goes mad over the dropped standards.

One customer is in tears over the burger as she was looking forward to it!

Before Gordon's team start on making changes he asks the owners if they are ready to commit to change and they promise they are.

Overnight, Gordon's team give the restaurant the most underwhelming makeover.

It appears only the carpets were replaced, a unit for their new sauce was added and one wall was changed.

Gordon #announces they are to make and sell their own BBQ sauce for customers to take home when they dine.

He reveals that the 75 item menu has been halved in order to allow the kitchen to focus on using fresh ingredients.

Gordon introduces four chefs who will be training and up skilling the cooks.

On relaunch night, Gordon gives John a pep talk before the fully booked service.

As the orders hit the kitchen the cooks struggle at first and try to send out potato skins without bacon and food slopped onto dirty plates.

The kitchen begins to get backed up and John talks to customers to keep them happy whilst they are waiting for food.

One table fed up of the wait and a customer goes into the kitchen to complain about her two hour wait before leaving the restaurant.

The kitchen steps up, gaining control of the orders and the food begins leaving the kitchen again.

Despite the hiccups in the kitchen the relaunch is a success and the customers loved the food.

What Happened Next at J Willy's?

In the weeks that followed they kept Gordon's changes.

They won first prize at the College Football Hall of Fame ribs cook-off with their signature barbecue sauce.

Yelp reviews after filming are mixed.

J Willy's closed on 4th February 2009.

With food prices increasing and customers decreasing, they had the choice of cutting the quality or closing.

A coffee shop opened in its place but this also closed.

The building was demolished in 2015.

Rick and Tricia also closed their restaurant Damon's Grill and Rick is now working in restoring and selling classic cars.

J Willy's aired on October 30 2008, the episode was filmed in February 2008 and is Kitchen Nightmares season 2 episode 5.

This post was last updated in March 2023.


  1. I do not believe this place has closed due to food prices increasing, all others world restaurant have to pay more for foods, I think he had to work, really work, like all restaurants making good meals have to do, maybe too much for someone.
    Beside I read here http://jwillys.com/about.html J Wlly is trying to produce and sell on his own the J Willy’s Barbeque Sauce. I hope the day he will Chef Gordon Ramsay would make public his recipe.

  2. That Rick guy seemed really nice, and the linked interview makes him sound even more humble and sweet. Most chefs and owners flip Ramsay a lot of cr*p, but out of everybody I've seen so far in Seasons 1 and 2, Rick really deserved for this to work for him. I'm really sorry to hear that his place just couldn't be salvaged in the end. I hope wherever he ended up, that he's doing all right. He learned a lot of hard lessons from Ramsay but he seems to have captured those lessons very well, so a fresh start may be just what he needed. I really liked him and wish him and his wife all the best.

  3. I didn't think Rick and his wife were very sweet. They kept blaming the other owner and acting like victims. No personal responsibility or accountability. I felt bad for the other guy, how depressing to be trying so hard but your partners keep beating you down, not surprised they closed down but I hope that guy is doing okay.

    1. Are you joking? He was absolutely useless. Most of the time he just stood there, gawking and completely clueless as to what he was supposed to do. Every time he DID make a decision, it was the worst one so i don't even know what's worse.

    2. True. However, that should have made the other owners step it up but all they did was point the finger without taking any responsibility for not being present.

    3. They lived over three hours way; they couldn't be present. It was the job of John to perform the day-to-day running of the restaurant.

  4. South Bend is having trouble, as is much of that area. I think they genuinely did try, but the economy got in the way.

    1. The South Bend area has gone down hill for many years. The west side has about hit rock bottom, like the west side of Chicago. It won't be coming back anytime soon.

  5. Ummm... duh, for anyone that says that it is horrible that Rick and his wife were mean for blaming the other owner, think about a verbal contract between owners. With partnerships, there is usually one partner that is the 'managing partner'. So, if he doesn't do well, it IS his fault, because he took on the responsibility. If he fails to do so, he needs to ask the others for help or ask to be bought out of the business before it goes downhill.

    1. They lived 3 hours away where they ran their other restaurant themselves. John was brought in to run that place, he failed, not them. John was an owner, John was there every day, John ran that place. John picked the menu, he picked the food, he cut the costs. The other two had to come down and sort it out with Gordon because John botched it big time.

  6. Totally disagree you invest your money it's your responsibility to protect your investment no one else's. Your going to be dumb enough to depend on someone else because your too lazy that's on you. Your money your responsibility

    1. Because Ramsay personally oversees all daily operations of his 21 restaurants and doesn't hire anyone to run them in his absence, right?

      Think before you type.

    2. Yes he does hire people to personally oversee daily operations, but im damn sure that when service, quality or sales show decline he is there to find out what the hell is going on. Both of you have a point, the main point is the inititive needed to make it all work long term with healthy comunication.

  7. Good. That place looked awful. I wouldn't use the bathroom there.

  8. South Bend is a dump. It isn't surprising this place existed there, and closed. The owner Rick seemed like a blubbering fool with his on-camera whimpering. What an embarrassment.

  9. What a shame to learn the place is closed- just saw a rerun of Kitchen Nightmares

  10. It what may be a first for a KN restaurant, the J Willy's building has now been demolished.

  11. I'm watching this episode on BBC America as I write this. I'm not surprised in the slightest that they went under. South Bend, Indiana. Home of the University of Notre Dame. You have to suck something awful to not be able to succeed in a big college town like that. That's almost like having a sports bar not work in Madison, Wisconsin. And did you catch the customer who started crying because her hamburger wasn't right? Somebody needs some counseling along with a regiment of antidepressants.

  12. ^^^^^ Big college town? You obviously do not know South Bend, but make sure you comment like you do. Sure Notre Dame is close to South Bend, but ND is it's own island. They bring in a lot of money for home games and that really benefits hotels and restaurants for those weekends. Other than that, the Domers keep to their campus and really close shopping/dining areas.South Bend, Elkhart, Mishawaka really don't get much else from ND.

  13. Sad, everyone thinking of becoming a chef or buying a restaurant should watch this entire series first then have a serious think about thier capabilities

  14. I'm not too surprised this place went under. If you know your manger is unable to do the job, you fire him before the problem gets worse. THEN, you find someone more qualified to do the job. I'll assume at that point the owners couldn't change mangers because of the financial crisis. Hopefully, if they ever considering trying the restaurant business again, they'll learn from this.

  15. If you can't run one restaurant right, can you run two? They should have sold one of them to invest in and to concentrate on the other. The recipes were bizarre, and there were too many items on the menu - hence, frozen food. If you want to serve fresh, you need to downsize the menu. Downsizing the menu also helps you to concentrate on fewer items, which will provide consistency. You could see that these owners waited too long to get advice. The look of defeat was already apparent, and then we learn that they were already $1.2 million under water. Life support does you no good when you've already kicked the bucket.

  16. Even if they did succeed, $1.2 million in debt is a lot to pay unless they made substantial profit like maybe, sell their BBQ sauce across America through Walmart or something. They should've closed down their other restaurant and focused on one. Although I don't think it's entirely their fault since the economy went really bad at the time.

  17. Finding, selling and restoring custom cars. Sounds like a pretty cushy job for a guy who was supposedly 1.2 million in debt and going to be "homeless" if he lost J Willy's. I call shenanigans on Rick's financial situation going into the show. Seems like he didn't wanna put in the work himself, but wanted J Willy's to be as successful as his other restaurant, and wanted a nice new menu and renovations on the restaurant to go with it.

  18. Dang I was hoping to actually get to visit a kitchen nightmares restaurant! This one seemed doable!

  19. Rick and his wife are responsible for taking on more properties than they could effectively manage, and for partnering up with John, but John is still a huge part of the problem.

    The staff is pretty biased here. They were upset at Rick for not being at J Willy's more, but do they also expect John to go up to the restaurant Rick and his wife are managing to help out? No, because the problem is John's incompetence, not theirs.

    Yes, Rick and his wife should have been more hands on; there were so many other things they could have done before it got this bad. Inspecting the kitchen, taking on a new partner and buying John out, hiring a more qualified GM -- but that doesn't let John off the hook.

    John just seemed like he had no will to even try to improve. Think about how scummy of a manager/restauranteur you have to be to be willing to sell your customers an obviously inferior product for the same price. When John just happily sat by and allowed his kitchen staff to start sending out sourdough and frozen products with the fresh price tag, it was pretty evident that the vast majority of the reason why J Willy's was doing so poorly is because John is so aggressively incompetent and doesn't actually care about the customers or food at all.

  20. I thought Rick kind of looked like the guy from the handlebar episode

  21. While it's nice that they chose to "close" than reduce quality, it's obvious that the practical decision they made here was to leverage the reputation of the business as it was to close a deal on selling it for enough of a price to try to cover the outstanding debts they had.

    Odds are, they managed to sell the restaurant off for enough of a price to get rid of most, if not all, the debt they had. It'd be hard to work on restoring classic cars if you were in that much debt, so clearly that debt isn't hovering over them and the only obvious reason why is because they were able to sell this restaurant off.

  22. Rick and his wife lived 3 hours away. It's pretty difficult to be hands on in a situation like that so yes, the other owner was responsible for running the restaurant day to day and did a poor job.

  23. Comments here blame Rick and his wife, others blame J Willy but the truth is, is that it was ALL OF THEIR FAULT. They left that place for him to run and though J Willy is a nice guy, he doesn't know what he's doing. As co-owners it's up to them to take charge and make things right too but apparently they also didn't know what they were doing. How did their other restaurant do? It's out of business now so the proof is in the pudding.


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