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Soul Daddy opens as America’s Next Great Restaurant ends without ever becoming great

America’s Next Great Restaurant concluded last night, at least for those not in the Pacific time zone, and the winning restaurant, Soul Daddy, opened three locations today: in L.A. at Hollywood and Highland, in New York City at the South Street Seaport, and in Minneapolis at the Mall of America. Like The Bachelor relationships, I suspect the big question is how long until the three close down.

However, there was a “long line” at the Mall of America, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which reviewed the food. Its menu is online and seems a bit pricey.

To me, the winner, Jamawn Woods, came out of left field. Ubiquitous reality personality Curtis Stone cited his “passion and drive,” and perhaps that overruled the purple design and pretty typical food. Soul Daddy, by the way, “will be owned by the contest winner along with various investors,” so it sounds like there are other investors besides the judges, who have refused to say how much they were investing.

While Saucy Balls/The Brooklyn Meatball Company appeared to have no chance, I thought the show was setting up Sudhir Kandula’s Spice Coast as the winner, which to me seemed like the most innovative yet marketable idea, especially once he adopted a Chipotle-esque menu. Sudhir, by the way, suggested that his final concept wasn’t something he was happy with, writing on Facebook today, “I will get down to the serious business of launching my uncompromised vision as soon as I am allowed to.”

Despite the line at Mall of America, there wasn’t a huge audience for the TV show, which last week had just 3.73 million viewers. As TV By the Numbers describes, ratings for the finale were affected by the breaking news because the series was preempted on the west coast.

The show improved from its very weak start, but never really rose to its potential nor to its pedigree (it’s produced by Magical Elves, which also created Top Chef). From the awkward set that had columns which obstructed sight lines to Bobby Flay’s constantly re-recorded, stilted hosting, it just didn’t come together. I love Chipotle and would eat there at every meal if I could, but its founder, Steve Ells, is not a TV personality. Finding workable judges is tricky, and it didn’t quite work here.

The last episode was the best, in part because they just dispensed with letting amateurs do professionals’ work by, for example, having a design firm create new logos. The finale was also better because of the increased participation of the judge/investors, who actually did something besides sit behind their table and comment about the exact same things. Again, America’s Next Great Restaurant had a great concept, but like it kept insisting about the restaurants it featured, success is all in the execution.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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