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‘Restaurant Stakeout’ rescues Mario’s Tutto Bene in Union, N.J.

Willie Degel the mastermind behind Restaurant Stakeout
Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Last night's episode of “Restaurant Stakeout” was titled "Fuggedabout Mario." Willie Degel came to help out Mario’s Tutto Bene in Union, N.J.

Willie met with John Garafalo, owner of Mario’s Tutto Bene, an Italian restaurant owned by his parents for 32 years, which is now his. His younger brother is involved in the restaurant as well, and he is a bartender. Since John took over, they have not been able to turn a profit, and he is not the happy soul he was when his parents owned the place, and he worked there. His parents are still involved in the restaurant, and with all their money tied up in the place, retirement is not an option.

Willie met with John away from the restaurant, got the keys, and sent in his team to wire up the place. When John saw the Willie vision control room, he was amazed. John gave Willie the scoop about everyone in the restaurant, Mike; the bartender was his brother, on staff for 10 years. He works four days a week, shows up an hour late, and lives across the street.

Willie and John left the control room to meet with John’s mother. Liz recognized Willie immediately. She told John how much she depended on him to keep the restaurant going. Back to the control room, Carlos, a waiter was on staff for 20 years, and as he pointed him out, a table received an order of calamari when they wanted a Buffalo chicken pizza. Eddie the manager has been with them for six months. He came to the table to straighten out the error, and they told him to cancel the pizza. He lacked people skills to be a working manager, and could not handle the simple problem then went into the kitchen, told the cooks to take the pizza out of the oven, and mumbled how he had to get out of there. Willie saw that John lacked confidence and was depending on others to run the place who did not care. He expected Willie’s visit to make him into a superstar, but he did not believe in himself. He pointed out Hector, a waiter there for four years, but there was no dress code. Hector took an order from a couple, but never interacted with them. Willie showed him how a non-interactive waiter could be costing his business $2,000 a week.

Willie saw an identity crisis, when they were selling hamburgers and sangria. He told John that if he runs an Italian restaurant, it must serve the best Italian food and have the best service. Willie sent in his food critic, Deborah Smith, from JerseyBites.com, who saw Patty, the hostess who has been there for 32 years. She had no tables available and sat her near the bar. Gina, a bartender there for just one month waited on her. Willie asked who trained Gina, and John stated that nobody trained her. So the food critic tested her knowledge of the menu. She had no idea about any of the food, and could not answer any question the critic asked, and then the hostess came over to tell her she had a table for her. The critic preferred to remain where she was, and let the unprofessional hostess go back to what she was doing.

Willie was at wits end and John asked him what he should do; Willie replied … run your business! He asked him why he was not training people. The critic gave the place a failure, although the food was good.

Another issue Willie noted was family favoritism, as he let his brother get away with everything. He was eating behind the bar like a slob; his attire was not good, and he spoke badly about the customers while on the phone, and did not care if they heard. Then he spotted a customer bringing in outside food and eating it in front of customers. However, Mike saw him eating outside food and gave him a reprimand, called him an idiot and threw him out of the place. Willie told John, his brother had to go.

John left to have an emergency meeting, but Willie came in to tell it like it is. When some of the staff laughed, Willie told them it was not funny, that the business is suffering in so many ways.

The next day, Willie met with John and gave him a backbone. Next, he met with the staff. He told Eddie and Patty they had to smile and greet and treat the customers like they were family. He asked Mike about his mother giving the keys to John, and not him, and he admitted that it ate him up inside. Willie told Mike, he should find another job.

He then introduced Pamela, a mixologist to train the bar staff to make a signature cocktail that would be their identity.

Six weeks later, Willie revisited the restaurant; he was pleased to see Eddie in a suit, Patty looking very nice, and the dress code enforced. John was happy to see Willie and Gina; the head bartender made him the signature cocktail.

Thanks to Willie and his staff on "Restaurant Stakeout," the sales were up 15%; the staff was happy; Mike is working elsewhere, and his mother looks forward to moving to Florida.