Nino’s Italian Restaurant in Bixby Knolls is getting its moment of fame as an episode of the Fox TV reality show Kitchen Nightmares with British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay featuring the restaurant airs tonight, Feb. 22 at 8pm on Channel 11.
The episode, which took months to edit and produce, is being viewed by close to 100 people during a sold-out viewing dinner night with digital TV screens and projectors and live music.
The family-owned restaurant, considered a staple in Long Beach and located at 3853 Atlantic Ave., had been left nearly untouched since first being opened in 1958 by Vincenzo and Inge Cristiano. After the couple retired, they handed the restaurant over to their eldest son Nino and their daughter Carina Cristiano Leoni.
For years, the restaurant had outdated décor and wine bottles hanging from the ceiling. However, that changed after Ramsay completely revamped the restaurant’s interior and menu last year.
Fox producers were scouting locally owned and operated restaurants in the neighborhood, and the restaurant was “on their radar,” said Carina, who said she had never watched the show before scouts came to town.
Some of the changes implemented at Nino’s included: new paint, a new system in the kitchen, a new Viking Stove with 16 burners and two ovens, and a smaller menu. Improvements also included: cleaning the carpets; taking the wine bottles down; clearing out clutter of knick-knacks and pictures; and adding new furniture, handmade wood-farm tables, new dishes, a custom-made sign and a pasta machine.
The opportunity to work with Chef Ramsay along with restaurant consultants and coaches was a one-of-a-kind experience, Carina said. “He is a world-class chef,” she said. “Chef Ramsay is charismatic and very smart and caring… He works incredibly hard and long hours.”
Carina said her favorite part of the remodel is the redesigned dining area that now includes long wooden tables. “The middle dining room which they remodeled is my absolute favorite,” she said. “It’s stunning and so pretty.”
So far, customers have taken to the restaurant’s new look, Carina said. “A lot of people like it,” she said. “Some people miss the fancy bottles that used to hang from the ceiling, but for the most part everybody loves the new décor and the simplicity to it. They really do seem to enjoy that.”
Although being on reality TV was a challenge, she said it was well worth the publicity for the restaurant and the Bixby Knolls community.
“Well, of course I am nervous to see it for the first time,” Carina said. “But I also am extremely thankful for their transformation and the work they did with my family and our employees. My chefs have renewed passion for what they cook again. I’m so proud and happy for them. I also firmly believe for change to truly happen, you need to get uncomfortable.”