Earlier this summer, Ramsay visited Mama Maria’s for a filming of an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, and as usual, during the four-day shoot, Ramsay didn’t spare the restaurant of his candid criticisms, said John Esposito, 52, owner of Mama Maria's.
During the first two days of the shoot, Esposito admitted it was very difficult to take negative criticism, and compared the initial days to a boot camp.
“The first two days were like a hardcore boot camp, and the last two were for rebuilding,” said Esposito. “Early on it was really hard to deal with the negative criticism. It was a hard pill to swallow.
“In the end, we all came around, but that time was short. I wish we had more one-on-one time with Ramsay earlier on.”
Since the reopening of the restaurant at 305 Court St., people walking by have stopped to look around, when in the past, people wouldn’t even think about stopping in, noted Esposito.
Though the owner hasn’t seen a hike in business since the filming and renovation, Esposito said he is hopeful that the airing of the episode, which is expected to take place later this season, will give the restaurant some much needed exposure.
“That’s the part of the story that hasn’t been written yet, but hopefully when the show airs, we’ll attract more customers.
“Everyone is very excited to see the episode,” said Esposito. “It’s the talk of the town! Customers have been asking whether Chef Ramsay will come back to the restaurant, and I have told them that he has said he would, but we’ll see.”
The Cobble Hill neighborhood has changed significantly over the years since he took over the restaurant in 1990, said Esposito. His parents, Sal and Maria, had owned the restaurant before that, since 1970.
The demographics of the neighborhood have changed, explained Esposito. Residents are now mostly under 50 years of age, and there are lot more younger people moving in.
Despite the change, Esposito was reluctant to depart from the classic Italian style food and décor he had inherited from his parents.
“I’m an old timer now,” said Esposito. “Change is really hard. You grow up with a certain style, and there’s room for both I thought, but maybe I was wrong. People called my place an old school joint, but young kids don’t appreciate that.”
Since the make-over, Esposito says the new simpler menu and urban décor are popular among young customers. Still, the owner noted that some of his older customers lament the loss of their old-Italian favorites.
“Kids like [the new menu],” said Esposito. “Old timers prefer their choices. They want their shrimp cocktail and veal piccata. They don’t like that change from classic Italian, it was their comfort food.”