READY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT: DownCity Restaurant co-owner Abby Cabral manages the day-to-day operations at the Weybosset Street eatery. It was recently featured on Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" television show.
Abby Cabral and Rico Conforti have seen a lot during their time in the restaurant business – from a devastating fire to the downturn in the economy and the upswing in new restaurants in the area.
But perhaps nothing could have prepared their downtown Providence DownCity Restaurant and bar, located at 50 Weybosset St., for a visit from the infamous food guru known to waltz into restaurants across the country and lambaste the décor, food and even the employees. He then offers tips on menu options, drinks, décor and whether to hire or fire employees.
The result is usually an improved restaurant with better food and atmosphere. But that hardly ever comes without a controversial confrontation with one or two of the owners.
That was no different when chef Gordon Ramsay confronted Cabral about everything from her many menus to her employees. But he got it right back.
Cabral, a feisty, petite woman, at first went out of her way to please the curmudgeonly chef – but that changed quickly as she began to stand her ground, making him leave at least four times until she could cool down. After all, she knew what worked in her restaurant and some of the changes, such as the customers’ favorite meatloaf, was one of the things he wanted to get rid of. He sampled several items from the menu, rarely offering a positive review.
The original show aired in March, with a follow-up that was planned for Oct. 21.
Conforti contacted “Kitchen Nightmares” as the owners were looking for ways to grow business in an increasingly competitive downtown market. Cabral wasn’t so sure.
“I knew it was all going to fall on me because I make all of the day-to-day decisions,” she said.
It started with a film crew in August, then again in December when Ramsay himself showed up. He was there six days. Ramsay liked the brightly decorated restaurant and did little to change that. He condensed the menus and enhanced the comfort foods, such as the corn beef hash.
Then there were the employees who talked to Ramsay. Some didn’t have very nice things to say.
“They threw me under the bus,” Cabral said. Overall, though, the owners felt the experience improved the restaurant and has brought in more customers.
Conforti is more of a silent partner in the business, with a full-time job who helps manage the finances.