Sam Najjar's only employees are his wife and kids, and the way they tell it, they worked seven days a week for no pay just to keep their dad's restaurant afloat.
The situation at Sam's Kabob Room in Old Town got so dire that Najjar had to call in celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay to give the ailing restaurant a total makeover. The show that chronicled that makeover, "Kitchen Nightmares," aired Friday night on Fox. The episode portrayed the transformation of Sam's from a tired, Old World-themed restaurant into something starkly more modern.
Ramsay showed up the Sam's and sampled the restaurant's many offerings but appeared thoroughly unimpressed. The steak was overcooked. The lamb was bland and tasted like it was "boiled in water." The word "meat" was spelled "meet" on the menu.
One by one, Najjar's kids spoke on camera about how miserable they were. They toiled away with little time off in an empty restaurant, they said, and their father didn't seem to care that they were trapped in a failing enterprise. They had family squabbles within earshot of customers.
"There seems to be no standards at all," the show's announcer declared.
So after all of Sam's problems were laid out on the table, Ramsay went to work. She started with the decor, repainting the drab interior and replacing aged photographs of Middle Eastern locales with bright modern art. Turning to the menu, Ramsay got rid of the huge servings of frozen meat and focused on fresher ingredients and smaller portions.
And then he worked on the attitude of the staff and Najjar himself. After a tearful family pow-wow, Najjar promised to change his aloof ways.
"Chef Ramsay opened my eyes to cook the right way," Najjar said. "Everything has changed right now and I hope it stays like that for the future."
It remains to be seen whether Sam's new look will help the restaurant survive, and the show didn't focus much on the reactions of patrons to the revamping.
So what do you think of Sam's now?