Is Kitchen Nightmares' El Cantito Cafe Still Open?

On the November 20, 2023, episode of the revamped "Kitchen Nightmares," viewers were introduced to El Cantito Cafe, a Puerto Rican restaurant in Yonkers, New York. Siblings Julio and Adelvi "Debbie" Santana opened the restaurant in 2020, and they reported that its first week was extremely busy. The menu consisted of their mother's recipes, which executive chef Julio learned growing up. Unfortunately, just a week after opening, the pandemic shut down most of the restaurant industry, which created financial hardship for the duo.

They struggled to keep their restaurant open and continued facing financial difficulties even after restrictions were lifted. "We used all our money to survive. After COVID, people just don't want to come out," Julio said during the episode. With sales down, Julio and Debbie struggled to find funds to fix the restaurant's broken dishwasher, refrigerator, and air conditioner. Similarly, they couldn't afford to hire any more staff. Julio attempted to pick up the slack by cooking, cleaning, and washing dishes, while Debbie eventually took on a second job. Both siblings were exhausted and burnt out, and while they didn't want to give up on their dream, any extra funds were gone, and they were beginning to feel desperate.

What happened to El Cantito Cafe on Kitchen Nightmares?

When Gordon Ramsay arrived at El Cantito Cafe, he was not impressed with the food, calling it greasy and lacking seasoning or flavor. He eventually learned the grease originated from the kitchen hood canopy, which was only cleaned once every three months rather than once a week, creating a fire hazard. In the restaurant's basement, he also discovered raw chicken breasts on top of plantains and rotten lemons mixed in with fresh ones. He ultimately instructed the server, Justin, to ask that everyone leave.

Julio and Debbie then learned that "Next Level Chef" semi-finalist Omi Hopper was one of the dining room patrons. Although she called the food "so greasy," embarrassing Julio, Ramsay asked her to return the following night to give El Cantito another chance.

The next day, the restaurant had been repainted with vibrant colors. It also had a new air conditioning system, as well as a framed photo of the siblings' mother. The kitchen had a new salad bar fridge, a rotisserie, and more space to work, and the recipes had been reworked with fresh ingredients. Ramsay gave Julio some tips, and they prepared for the dinner rush.

While Julio became overwhelmed, he managed to ground himself with Ramsay's help. Julie and Debbie ended the episode feeling confident and optimistic, promising to improve the operation of their restaurant.

El Cantito Cafe after Kitchen Nightmares

After "Kitchen Nightmares" wrapped, El Cantito Cafe's operations seemed to improve, but reviews tended toward one extreme or the other. On the positive side, one Yelper wrote "Food was AMAZING BEST I've had in Yonkers ever!! We had the pernil, rice and gandules, Trifongo and alcapurrias. No disappointment at all. Real authentic Puerto Rican food. Kudos to the chef Julio." One month later, however, another Yelp review gave the establishment one star, writing that it was "for the server who was good, because if it was for just the food, it would be zero stars. Don't say I didn't warn you, much better Latin choices to pick from."

As for Julio and Debbie, the siblings seemed very satisfied with the way things turned out — and how Ramsay helped them operate more efficiently. "I was happy to be able to cook with Gordon Ramsay. It was exciting. He renovated ... my kitchen, he gave me some good advice," Julio told the YouTube channel Flavors of New York. "He also showed me a system in the kitchen that really works for the outside ... although he helped me reduce the menu — I had a bigger menu — but he made it make sense to the restaurant's size and the size of the kitchen." In an interview with Lohud a few months later, Julio did admit that he reintroduced some of the items Ramsay took off the menu.

Is El Cantito Cafe still open?

El Cantito Cafe is still open, and while Chef Julio has added some menu items that Ramsay removed, the restaurant ultimately seems to be sticking with the formula the celeb chef laid out. Julio and Debbie also seem to be doing all they can to increase business. They held a raffle for Thanksgiving, and the winner received a special dinner for the holiday. Tickets were $5 each, or five for $20. Debbie told TikToker @selflovebyannie that they first held the raffle in 2022 and decided to make it annual.

They also used their newfound connection with Chef Omi Hopper to generate more business. Hopper and Julio hosted a live cooking class at the restaurant on December 4. The event was advertised as a Puerto Rican holiday demo, with the chefs creating pernil, arroz con gandules, ensalada de papa, and pasteles, while Debbie made a special holiday cocktail.

The biggest complaint from negative reviewers is the prices, with many longtime customers claiming the prices went up after the "Kitchen Nightmares" episode. "I used to come here all the time, but the prices went up and the food quality went down!!!" one customer wrote in a Google review. Others were frustrated with the automatic 20% gratuity. "Very pricey for very small portions," another Google reviewer claimed. "[Thought] it was tasty. Also, they automatically charge 20% gratuity. And I was just one person. They were friendly and fast service. It's just too expensive."

What's next for El Cantito Cafe?

Julio and Debbie have been doing all they can to use their newfound "Kitchen Nightmares" exposure to boost their restaurant. Besides the Thanksgiving raffle and the cooking event Julio hosted alongside Omi Hopper, El Cantito Cafe is also hosting a New Year's Eve party. For $93.88 per person, guests can enjoy a live D.J., a buffet-style dinner, cocktails, wine, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as champagne at midnight.

While the El Cantito Cafe Facebook page hasn't been updated since March, Julio and Debbie have become more active on the restaurants' TikTok and Instagram pages. Not only do they post about upcoming events, but they also post tantalizing videos of their dishes, such as plato navideno and pollo asado con trifongo. They've also shortened the restaurant's hours, which are now 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. As recently as August, El Cantito Cafe was open one hour later each night.