Antonia Lofaso Reveals What You Didn't See On Restaurant Hustle - Exclusive

Ever play that game where everyone thinks of one word to describe 2020? When Restaurant Business took a look back at how the year of the pandemic played out for the restaurant industry, it came down to one word: "survival." No one understands that better than celebrity chef, restauranteur, and cookbook author Antonia Lofaso, who sat down with Mashed for an exclusive interview — in between running her three L.A. restaurants and co-hosting "Restaurant Reboot" with Guy Fieri. It wasn't her first time teaming up with the Food Network titan. This past year, Lofaso allowed cameras to follow her around for "Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line," a documentary that offered a close-up look of what it took her and fellow restauranteurs Marcus Samuelsson, Maneet Chauhan, and Christian Petroni to keep their restaurants afloat.

After turning her restaurants into essential food markets, keeping most of her 500 employees working, and feeding thousands of first responders, Lofaso said that initially her word of the year had been "pivot." However, upon further reflection, she realized the word should be "resilience." That's because she saw firsthand how there could be no pivoting without a hearty helping of resilience. While "Restaurant Hustle" showed much of the harsh reality of running a restaurant during the pandemic, it couldn't possibly capture all that the restauranteurs saw behind the scenes.

Lofaso had to be convinced to participate in 'Restaurant Hustle'

Guy Fieri's "Restaurant Hustle" started filming in March 2020 — so soon after the first pandemic-related lockdown began that it would have been impossible for Antonia Lofaso to know what might be in store. What she did know was how vulnerable she was feeling on multiple levels, not just for herself, but also on behalf of the approximately 500 people employed by her three restaurants.

As much as we thought we knew about how the pandemic upended the restaurant industry, Lofaso's decision to even allow the cameras to witness her and her staff at such a potentially "heart-wrenching time" was not an easy one. "I was still in this mode of I have to protect my restaurants," Lofaso explained. "I couldn't possibly film something right now. It's inappropriate," she initially thought.

Then Guy Fieri, her close friend and colleague, offered his perspective: "You care about your staff, [and] people need to see that ... People need to feel like they're supported on a global level." 

'Restaurant Hustle' was worth the risk

Ultimately, Lofaso put her trust into Fieri, who responsibly documented what she described as an intensely "intimate experience." He also brought the four subject-chefs together for daily remote check-ins to lend each other support and trade stories.

"I'm so happy that I trusted him and did it," Lofaso said. "Not to mention, my staff is wildly proud of what we did. They got to see it on television, edited and put together ... When you see it laid out in front of you, everyone's crying. Everyone had tears in their eyes. They were just beside themselves because it felt like we were in this insane nightmare that we were never going to wake up from. And it was just like every day wake up, go. Every day wake up, go. And so, to kind of see what we did laid out on the screen was like, 'oh my God, we did so much.'"

If you haven't yet seen "Restaurant Hustle 2020: All On The Line," you can stream it via Food Network. To see more of Antonia Lofaso, catch her co-hosting LendingTree's "Restaurant Reboot" with Guy Fieri, which is on Guy's Facebook page and can be viewed at GuysRestaurantReboot.com.