Kitchen Nightmares - Mama Rita's - CLOSED

Kitchen Nightmares Mama Rita's

In this Kitchen Nightmares episode, Chef Gordon Ramsay visits Mama Rita's in Newbury Park, California.

Mama Rita's is owned by Laura Papenfus, who decided to open a Mexican restaurant and name it after her grandma after she passed away.

Laura says her grandmother was always cooking and she was always helping her in the kitchen.

She first got into the trade with a catering business that had built a great reputation with the locals in a short period of time.

She decided to expand her venture into a restaurant due to customers advice she should do so and her great reputation.

Now, she has the restaurant she is serving less and less customers.

The restaurant was busy for the first week after they had opened.

After three weeks, the customers began to dwindle and the restaurant is now struggling to stay open.

Head Chef Perla has cooked for Mama Rita for six years and says Laura is really a nice person to her.

Laura calls Perla her right hand man and savior.

Head Waiter Brad says Laura is not a good boss as there aren’t any rules in place at the restaurant and no one really knows what they’re doing.

Manager Cheryl also believes Laura doesn’t know how to run her restaurant.

Laura’s mother Maggie works as a hostess of the restaurant and says Laura is inexperienced as a restaurant owner.

Laura is in $2.2million of debt and at risk of losing her house if business at the restaurant doesn't improve as she is on the foreclosure list.

Gordon arrives and meets Maggie and is confused about the name of the restaurant.

He says the restaurant is stunning and he speaks to Laura about her background in the food industry.

He asks Laura what her specialty dishes are and meets server Brad, who has worked at the restaurant since the beginning.

Brad advises what dishes not to order from the menu as he thinks they are very dry dishes.

With Brad’s advice, Gordon orders the tamales, chimichanga and a burrito.

While waiting for his order, Laura introduces the manager Cheryl to Gordon.

Gordon asks what the problem of the restaurant is but Cheryl couldn’t give an answer on what the problems are.

The tamales are compared to sheets of soaking wet newspaper and the filling is dry.

The chimichanga is microwaved then fried with dry chicken and the steak burrito he compares to eating wet cardboard.

After a lunch of disgusting dishes, Gordon now knows why the beautiful restaurant is failing.

He enters the kitchen to meet the staff and they reveal that it is the same food that they use for the catering service.

They cook the dishes in large batches, freeze the portions and simply steam them for each order.

Gordon decides to observe the dinner service of the restaurant.

The food goes out quickly to the customers but they are not happy with the food they receive.

They mostly complain about the dryness of the restaurant’s food.

With the food flying out of the kitchen at an incredible pace, the kitchen staff begin to spend time socializing.

Gordon suspects they are taking shortcuts, he looks in a freezer and pulls out a lot of frozen food.

He describes the kitchen as a factory processing plant that defrosts and serves frozen food and believes they must be cutting corners.

Gordon empties the fridges and freezers, which was filled with tray after tray of pre-cooked frozen food.

He then takes all of the trays out and puts all the food on display in the restaurant for the staff to see.

Laura keeps defending her food, saying it was the way she did it during her catering days.

He estimates that they have over $12,000 worth of frozen food in the freezer.

The amount is shocking and some of the frozen food is dated as far back as last year!

Gordon throws away most of the food as they will no longer be serving frozen food.

Laura finally accepts that everything is her responsibility and she had been careless about it.

Gordon invites previous customers to talk to Laura about what the community expects from the restaurant.

They say they weren’t getting the service they expected and the food wassn't creative.

A few of the customers said that they got sick with stomach problems after eating in the restaurant.

Laura is now enlightened that people want good food and she hasn’t been delivering that to them.

Gordon later challenges Laura and Perla to each cook a new dish for the new menu using only fresh ingredients.

Perla struggles but comes up with "garlic breast", which is bland and lacks creativity.

The dish is seriously lacking when compared to Gordon's steak and Laura's delicious blackened shrimp tacos.

For the evening service, the new specials are popular with customers.

The kitchen struggles to cook fresh fish and the steaks are served under cooked.

In the kitchen, Perla struggles to take charge and lead the staff.

Gordon invites Chef Naris Mardirosian as a consultant to help the kitchen.

The menu is revamped with dishes made using fresh ingredients.

The staff taste the food and love the new dishes.

For relaunch night, Naris is overseeing the kitchen but Perla is not working with Naris and is struggling.

The cooks stand there doing nothing while the customers face a long wait for food.

Dishes are sent back for burnt chips, missing beans and cheese and the steaks are served under cooked.

Even Chef Naris struggles with the chaos of the kitchen caused by Perla and there are tears from both Chefs.

Gordon makes it clear to Laura that Perla is not capable of running the kitchen and Laura should consider letting her go.

Laura and Perla have a heart to heart conversation outside but Laura refuses to lose Perla.

Naris is forced to step up and the service finishes well with her help and the customers love the food.



What Happened Next at Mama Rita's?

We are told at the end of the show that after Gordon left Naris stayed for a few weeks to help get the restaurant off the ground.

Perla was removed as Head Chef for the restaurant but continued working in the catering side of the business.

However, Perla actually remained as Head Chef after being trained by Naris in the following weeks.

Laura reverted back to her old menu, abandoning Gordon's menu.

Yelp reviews were mostly positive after filming with a handful of 1/2 star reviews.

Mama Rita's closed in December 2010 but the catering business was still in business for a number of years.

After the closure, Laura managed Mission Oaks Cafe in Camarillo, CA and Yelp reviews were average.

Mission Oaks Cafe closed in June 2019.

Mama Rita's aired on March 19 2010, the episode was filmed in May 2009 and is Kitchen Nightmares season 3 episode 8.


Read About More Kitchen Nightmares

Previous episode - Casa Roma

Next episode - Anna Vincenzo's

This post was last updated in April 2021.

11 comments:

  1. She went back to her old menu and kept that incompetent chef? Then the restaurant deserved to close. Can't help people who refuse to be helped.

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  2. The "Head Chef" was just a catering chef and it showed.

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  3. They deserve to go out of business selling old food .They should make amends by offering the food for free or at cost since they had so many disatisified customers.

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  4. That's too bad, owner seemed really nice. But no one goes to a restaurant hoping for microwaved food.

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  5. Grandma Rita must be so happy that her name is no longer on that restaurant.

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  6. You'd have to be mad or desperate to hire that lot for your catering. Useless, hopeless lot.

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  7. What happened with the manager? She was hammered by Gordon because of not knowing why guests didn't come back. Then she moved quietly to the background. What a joke!

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  8. That was not Mexican Food, that was Tex-Mex food. To be honest, a cultural trait that is notorious in latinamerican people is the strong friendship bonds. It is a double edge sword.

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  9. Laura was so headstrong and said all the right things, and then goes back to her old ways!? Like, these people on this show all sound so determined, just to go back to the same old problems! It's something.....

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  10. Perla was out of her league. She basically sunk the business and the owner did not want to let her go so both of them created that burden for themselves. It is hard to work with a friend and that friend is not keeping up their end of the deal. They were serving food that was months old and found food that was a year old in their freezer make it clear whey people were getting sick.

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