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From packed house to curbside pickup: Coronavirus quiets Gordon Ramsay boost to Ellicott City businesses

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s “24 Hours to Hell and Back” Ellicott City special episode aired last week, giving Howard County residents a look into the madness that overtook Main Street during the last week of February.

But as the two-hour special aired, Ellicott City, and the world beyond, was living through a much different time than anyone expected. The three businesses Ramsay renovated — The Little Market Cafe; Jaxon Edwin, a barbershop, coffee bar and game room; and a merger of the Phoenix Emporium and Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, now called Phoenix Upper Main — were only briefly open before the pandemic struck.

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“We were open for two weeks after we filmed the show and we had live music, standing-room only, packed house, things were amazing,” said Jeff Braswell, owner of Jaxon Edwin. “[Now] we’re facing adversity like everyone else, and we’re fighting back like everyone else.”

After the episode aired last week, Mark Hemmis, owner of Phoenix Upper Main, said the restaurant got an enormous bump in business.

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“[The show] brought national attention to what we’ve been through and what we’re going through looking forward,” Hemmis said. "It took time to adjust to having the television cameras around, but the benefits that our business and our town got from this experience far outweigh the minor inconveniences.”

Cynthia Valles, the head chef at Phoenix Upper Main, was a focal point in the episode. Valles worked for Hemmis as a teenager, and was back almost 15 years later to become the head chef at Phoenix Upper Main.

“It was [such] an enormous undertaking [to merge the two restaurants], that we had to bring her back,” Hemmis said. "I knew what she could do, and I’m glad Gordon Ramsay and the show gave her the opportunity to showcase what she could do.”

Last Tuesday, Braswell was in his Ellicott City home alongside his wife and two sons reliving Ramsay’s visit and renovation, reminiscing about what it was like to have the more than 100-person crew in town. His little son was mesmerized.

"Look, there’s daddy on TV, but daddy’s right here, how is that possible?” he said.

“[My sons] talk about Gordon Ramsay every day as if he’s a superhero,” Braswell added.

Over the course of the week-long event Braswell said he was on a live microphone at least 100 times. He said Ramsay gave Jaxon Edwin a foundation with five menu options that Braswell could expand on. Braswell then hired a full-time chef and mixologist, and expanded the menu.

“[Ramsay] gets you started; it’s still up to us to take it to the next level,” Braswell said. “Everything that they changed in the show stayed, and it’s still there. [We took] it and ran with it until COVID-19 shut us down."

Braswell said Jaxon Edwin’s social media has been blowing up since the show aired. The most common message, he said, is, “As soon as we can, we will support you guys.”

“The response from the community has been amazing since airing,” Braswell said.

In Braswell’s parts of the show, Ramsay focused on making Jaxon Edwin, and subsequently Braswell, more a part of the community.

“I’ve been on Main Street for five years and had 30 people on payroll,” he said. “The thing I failed to do was get in the community.”

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Tammy Beideman, owner of Sweet Elizabeth Jane, a boutique just up the Main Street hill from Jaxon Edwin, said she was thrilled that Ramsay was in town to shine a light on Ellicott City. She was even featured in the beginning of the two-hour special.

“For me, [the episode] felt like the most exciting thing that had happened since March 13 when we closed [because of the coronavirus order]‚” Beideman said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought it really captured who we are in a really good light."

Beideman recalled when after the floods in 2016 people stood in line for hours waiting to help support her boutique, and she made comparisons with the shutdown caused by the pandemic.

Beideman’s business is being hit hard right now, too.

“Usually, I’m having to dig out and rebuild; this is stopping for a crisis,” she said. “I’m taking it in and I’m learning. It’s a lot of logistics, but we’re figuring it out.”

Daraius Irani, chief economist at the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, said the timing of the show’s airing could not be worse for the businesses themselves.

“It aired during COVID-19, physical isolation, which means that the businesses couldn’t capitalize on the publicity,” Irani said. “The impact of the makeover is somewhat dissipated because the boom of customers can’t come in.”

Irani added that there can be challenges to preserve that makeover, particularly during the difficult economic times of the pandemic.

“Maintaining that level of ambiance needs to be budgeted into the businesses expenses,” Irani said.

Regardless of the difficulties, Braswell is determined to make it work. He’s trying to get back as many staff members on the payroll as possible as the county eases restrictions on businesses.

“My staff is ready to work, customers are ready to come in," Braswell said. “Dealing with the severity of this illness is above my pay grade, so we have to listen to the people in charge.”

With so few TV shows and movies being produced right now because of the pandemic, Hemmis expects to see the show aired again.

"We’re hoping the show gets to re-air, perhaps in the fall when we reopen,” he said.

Jaxon Edwin reopened last week to support essential workers who need haircuts during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Braswell is allowing one stylist and one customer in the business at a time. Appointments are required online or by phone and can be made daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Jaxon Edwin also is offering carryout and curbside pickup of small plates and cocktails through online ordering from 3 to 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.

Phoenix Upper Main is currently open for carryout from 4 to 8 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, with a special to-go menu. Beer and wine are also available for pickup. Orders can be made online or by phone.

The Little Market Cafe is planning to reopen for carryout from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursdays to Sundays, starting this week. People will be able to order online, by phone or at the cafe’s outdoor kiosk.

Sights and sounds from Gordon Ramsay's video crew for "24 Hours to Hell and Back" filming volunteers staging a clean up of Ellicott City.

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