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After just a single month of operation, "America's Next Great Restaurant" winner Jamawn Woods shuttered two of the three "Soul Daddy" locations that debuted the day after his victory was proclaimed on the NBC reality series. The closure of the NYC and Los Angeles locations leaves him with a single unit operating at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

The producers of the show announced up front that the winner would open the locations in these predetermined cities. The "lucky" restaurateur would receive financial backing to pull off this daunting mission (the actual level of commitment of resources is not known). But even if the level of resources consisted of a bottomless well of financial and human capital, any experienced multi-unit restaurant professional knows exactly how tough a challenge this was going to be. And thus it comes as no surprise that the venture has been such a significant failure (not withstanding whatever level of success the remaining unit may be achieving).

I could list dozens of flaws in the business plan, but that is not the point of this blog. The real story is how Jamawn Woods was, in essence, taken advantage of for the purpose of theater. I don't know who came up with the concept of simultaneously launching three geographically dispersed restaurants, but I would hate to think it was the brainchild of any experienced players from the restaurant industry. To the producers, it may have seemed to be a good hook to generate interest in the show. But I would have hoped that, at the very least, the experienced judges involved in the production would have injected enough common business sense to defeat the idea. That obviously did not happen, and I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall listening to the debate surrounding the idea.

Perhaps, within the context of the profit and loss statements of the television show, the loss of the investment made in the two failed locations is relatively meaningless. In the end, after all, one has to assume that this was about producing a successful television show, NOT the production of a successful restaurant concept. But caught in the middle of this is Jamawn Woods, who was chasing a dream to be a successful restaurateur.

I don't know the details of the business arrangement or whether or not Woods has any of his own money at risk in the venture (Frankly, I was surprised to see that he remained so actively involved in the opening of the concepts; one would have assumed that the "investors" would have brought in a seasoned, professional management team from within the industry to pull this off). But from what has been written so far, the impression has been created that Woods has been left holding the bag, trying desperately to salvage something out of this disaster. If his investors provided him with such little working capital that two of the three locations could not weather more than a single month of operation, then his remaining location must be on a very narrow ledge.

For those of us in the industry, what we are eager to know is the real story behind the rollout of the concept. That is where the real drama resides. Perhaps when the smoke of "Soul Daddy" clears, Woods will tell his story, which will be the real lesson of value for all those who think the restaurant industry is fertile ground for overnight success

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Don Fox
    Postscript: Within 24 hours of posting this blog, "Soul Daddy" closed the doors on the Mall of America location, further reinforcing the flawed foundation upon which the investment was made. It is such a shame to see our industry so poorly represented.
  • stuart davis
    This poor "Soul Daddy" was successfully exploited by Flay and his moronic cast of characters. Listening to them "mentor" these food industry hopefuls was a joke. It made me wonder how a stiff like Ells ever built one of the most successful concepts ever to grace the industry.

    This show was an insult to anyone that has ever genuinely tried to open or has opened a restaurant. It was a joke from day one.
  • Doug Nassif
    I hope to God Mr. Woods didn't sign some sort of irrevocable non-disclosure agreement about what happened behind the scenes to this disaster. This is a story that needs to be told. This whole story sucks even more than the show did.

    Find an author and write a book about it Mr. Woods! Call them out and name names.
  • Doug Nassif
    and another thing...

    As if it wasn't hard enough to get a new concept this fiasco is going to make it that much harder. Now we get to hear more smug "advice" like, "You know...190% of all restaurants fail within the first 2 months. Just look at that TV show...even Bobby Flay couldn't get it to work!"

    Makes me angry...
  • mike mcgannon
    The whole concept was flawed from the begining, no matter who won, it wasn't going to be successful, out of the group Bobby Flay is the only one who work his way up throught resturants to open his own, While Curtis might be a great Chef he's never opened one resturant let alone a franchise and I'm sorry, but Garcia wasn't the best pick either, owning a resturant in an airport concourse, does not make her any kinds of franchise expert. Out of the bunch Ells is the only one with franchise experience and if he hadn't had an investment from his father early on or had a board of directors after the 3rd location opened, who knows if chipotle would even be around today. Cleary the show was not well thought out from the beggining and the investor panel was thrown together to reach the widest demographic, Food Network Star, Women, Franchise owner....etc

    Honestly I think Ells was just looking for new ideas for his use to expand beyond chipotle

    Opening one location would have been hard enough for a new concept, let alone for someone with 0 experience in the industry and having 3 locations across the country is just beyond one with one day in management experience in the industry would say oh, yeah let's open in the midwest and each coast at the same time with a brand new concept.....YEAH RIGHT

    thankfully there won't be a 2nd season of the show and hopefully this doesn't hurt the business in the long run.
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Latest posts by Don Fox
Don Fox
Don Fox has 30+ years experience in the restaurant industry. He joined Firehouse Subs in 2003 as director of Franchise Compliance, and was promoted to the position of CEO in 2009.
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