Badseed555 - Well, now that someone else beside Mosca said they know who Mike Kalina was, I'll tell you a pretty amazing story...A $200,000 story actually. I'd e-mailed Mosca because it appeared nobody else ever heard of Mike Kalina, the Phantom Diner. Didn't think anyone else wanted to hear this.
In the late 1980's he had a show on Saturdays on PBS and also a spot on KDKA Channel 2 where he was The Phantom Diner. I built a restaurant down on Smallman Street across from Jo Jo's in the late 80's. Sorry we missed you. We served a menu similar to the Original with some addded things like Chinese Roast Pork on Garlic Bread, fresh chicken breast sandwiches, hand pattied burgers, ribs, etc.
We used a Sabrette natural casing 6 to 1 dog and charged $2 for it; Sheetz had 3 for a dollar! Some people bitched. We had very high end customers who appreciated what we were doing. We just did not have enough of them! We had the same fresh cut fries, the same fryers and used peanut oil, too. What we did not have was the Dirty O's foot traffic..That's why we got $150,000 from the landlord and that's how I got to Pittsburgh. Bad location at that time and so the Landlord induced us to come. Like I said, I put up $120,000.
Anyway, things did not go well (First Iraq war, coldest winter in 20 years, etc) and a friend in NYC said she knew a restaurant critic in Pittsburgh. She could ask him to review the place, but no promises of a good review. My projections were half of what I felt we were going to do...We were months away from calling it a day.
One Monday night, we sent everyone home early and just my wife and I were there. In walks four well dressed people and they proceed to order everything on the menu! My wife immediately recognized one of them as Mike Kalina (from his PBS show on Saturdays).
I knew this was either going to be the end or the beginning for us. I'm by myself in the kitchen and all of a sudden more people start coming in! My wife went up to them and said if they would not order any food, she'd give them all the free beer they wanted. They were great. Pittsburghers are good people.
The next day, we get a call that we'd been reviewed. They would not tell us what the results were (they'd eaten everything..cleaned their plates so we knew it would be ok) and wanted to video tape the place, etc. They came in and took pictures of all our food. They called and told us we would be on Wed on the Evening PM Show's Phantom Diner segment at 7:30. Within 10 minutes of airing (we got 4 stars out of 5 with raves about the ribs)people started calling for our hrs and location.
We'd been averaging $300 a day, which was half of my projections. The next day after the tv spot we did $900. The day after that $1800 and the day after that $2700. We ran out of everything! From that point on, we did very well. Steelers, Penquins, Pirates, etc. all started coming in. My wife hated the hours and the cold weather; we sold (all cash) to a rich physician's son and left. The kid changed the hot dog, changed all the homemade food (we did not even have a freezer in the restaurant) and he eventually went in the crapper two years later. Moral of the story..Never finance the sale of your restaurant or too many times you most likely will be taking it back.
Two years later, a scandal hits the papers. Mike Kalina had been charged with setting up a dummy corporation with a friend. The friend would approach struggling restaurants and say he could get a good review for them. They had to pay the guy in cash. When the story hit the papers, Mike Kalina, a icon in the town, was so embarrassed that he killed himself. He ran a hose from the exhaust pipe of the car in his garage.
He'd never asked me for a penny. His review turned out to be worth nearly $200,000. That's the power of an unsolicited review. My big mistake was never seeing the need to advertise when we first opened. I knew the food was going to be good and thought word of mouth would do it...that is tough when Primanti's is right down the block though. I foolishly thought we'd take a percentage of their customers..We got none of them.. We had to develop our own customer base. IT took far longer than I expected. That's it....