The timing of the Cafe Hon's participation in the Habitat for Humanity's Women Build project, on the weekend it was being filmed for a "Kitchen Nightmares" episode, struck some observers as too coincidental. Surely, naysayers wondered (or came right out and said), the rehab shift was orchestrated by the producers of "Kitchen Nightmares," who would come down to film the Cafe Hon crew on the job site.
On Saturday morning, I found the Hon crew -- employees, friends and longtime customers -- split between two Habitat for Humanity sites, one in Patterson Place and another a few blocks away in McElderry Park, where a corner house on Jefferson Street was being readied for a Monday morning dedication. There were no film crews there. The only media presence was a restaurant critic.
Leila Kohler-Frueh, director of community engagement for the Habitat for the Humanity of the Chesapeake, re-confirmed what another Habitat employee had previously told me: first, the date for Cafe Hon's build was planned well before "Kitchen Nightmares" approached Cafe Hon; second, it was Habitat for the Humanity that first approached Cafe Hon, back in April, as a potential partner for Women Build, a volunteer program for women who want to learn construction skills and build homes and communities.
Cafe Hon's active involvement with the Women Build project began in June. The announcement about Hon's Saturday shift in East Baltimore, as mentioned earlier, was issued by Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake.
Among the Hon crew at Jefferson Street was Lisa Davis, whose many responsibilities at Cafe Hon include bartending and organizing the annual Hon Fest. When asked about Hon's staff, Davis told me that about 50 people work for Hon in some capacity; a good bunch of them are Hampdenites, who walk to work. Three generations of her own family, Davis said, have worked there.
"When Denise told me what the taping dates were," Davis said, "I made her promise it wouldn't interfere with the (Habitat) build. She promised." Whiting herself had been on the job site earlier, Davis said, but had to return to Cafe Hon under the terms of her contract with "Kitchen Nightmares."
Davis, a longtime employee, is a cogent and persuasive spokeswoman for Hon. If Gordon Ramsay can simply persuade Whiting, who has been known to struggle with articulating the Hon mission, to let Davis do her talking, we might know peace in our times.
The "Kitchen Nightmares" crew is scheduled to begin filming on Friday at Cafe Hon in Hampden. The production trucks have been on and off The Avenue since at least Wednesday night, when I saw them, on my way into the restaurant for a pre-production meal. The actor who played Buster Bluth on "Arrested Development" was spotted on The Avenue on Wednesday, too.
Fresh paint was on Cafe Hon's door frames Wednesday night. Common sense tells you it was the show's producers who had them painted.
Speaking of rehab, on Saturday morning, Whiting and her crew will rise early and head down to Patterson Place to assist with the completion of Baltimore Women Build house, a project of the Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake. They will be dressed in full "Hon" regalia. The cafe raised $600 for the Habitat Women Build project at an October 25 happy hour held at the Hampden restaurant.
For the record, the announcement about Cafe Hon's participation in Baltimore Women Build came from Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake. The Saturday shift "has been on the book for a long time," Sandra Erbe, the organization's marketing manager told me. "They’ve been a good partner for Habitat for the Humanity."
Meanwhile, no one I know who has applied to be part of the dining crowd for this weekend's filming has heard back from the production team with a definitive reservation time. I went to Cafe Hon on Wednesday night. I'll post my observations, along with my own rehab advice, on Friday morning.
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