Food Network has added another show to the family business reality genre with “Restaurant Divided,” airing Thursdays. Each week, chef Rocco DiSpirito comes into a struggling family-run restaurant whose owners are split over how to save it.
DiSpirito then divides the space in two, with one side each devoted to the competing concepts. Customers and critics are invited in for one night. After that, DiSpirito looks at the profitability of the night and the customer reviews and decides which idea works better for keeping the restaurant afloat.
By email, DiSpirito shares thoughts about the show and the idea of family-run restaurants.
Zap2it: Where did the idea for “Restaurant Divided” originate?
Rocco DiSpirito: It was an original idea from Leopard Films USA.
Zap2it: What do you think makes you the right host for the show?
Rocco DiSpirito: My personal experience opening and operating several restaurants – one of which was a family business – uniquely qualifies me to advise and counsel our contestants through the makeover process. I understand from working with my own family the benefits and challenges it presents.
Zap2it: What are your thoughts on our fascination with family-run businesses?
Rocco DiSpirito: Watching family dynamics intersect with operating a business is incredibly compelling.
Zap2it: Have you learned any surprising things, either about running a restaurant or family dynamics?
Rocco DiSpirito: Although I truly adored working with my mother, I’ve confirmed my suspicion that mixing family and business is generally not a good idea.
Zap2it: What has come to light as the most important thing family restaurants can do to survive in competition with chain eateries?
Rocco DiSpirito: Try not to compete, do not attempt to be all things to all people like many chains are, and be as authentic and true to what you’re passionate about as possible. If you don’t like seafood, don’t open a seafood restaurant. If you’re a world-class pit master, focus on barbecue, and don’t dilute your brand with extraneous menu items like Buffalo chicken wings, because Friday’s down the road does.
Here’s the recipe for Rocco’s mother Nicolina’s famous meatballs:
1/3 cup chicken stock; 1/4 cup diced yellow onion; one clove garlic, minced; 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped fine; 1/2 pound each of ground beef, ground pork and ground veal; 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs; 2 eggs; 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated; 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes; 1 teaspoon salt; 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil; 3 to 6 cups marinara sauce.
Puree the chicken stock, onion, garlic and parsley, then combine with everything but the marinara sauce until well mixed. Form meatballs and saute them in olive oil. Heat the marinara sauce in a large pot, add meatballs, and simmer for over an hour.