Mad Cactus Owner Can Finally Talk About TV Makeover
Calls Chef Irvine 'a hothead' and says crews tricked him
Tom Krukemeyer and Food Network Chef Robert Irvine didn't exactly get off to a great start.
Within minutes, the TV chef was hopping mad.
Here's how it happened: Producers had Krukemeyer and Irvine walk to their places to be introduced on-camera.
But the director changed his mind and asked them to switch places.
Irvine went ballistic, Krukemeyer said, calling the director names. Then he demanded his coffee, even though it was sitting on a table a few feet away.
"He actually waited till the producer came and picked up his coffee for him," Krukemeyer said.
After the scene, Krukemeyer went to the kitchen, where his anxious staff was waiting to hear how it went.
"I said, 'we're in big trouble. This guy is a jerk,'" Krukemeyer recalled.
Then he realized his microphone was still on.
"Robert came flying out of the production trailer," Krukemeyer said, grinning. "He got right in my face, screaming."
"We were shocked. The whole staff was surprised," Krukemeyer said. "The intensity when they were here just didn't come through on the show."
UPDATE: See what Tom Krukemeyer has to say a year after the makeover.
A Few Tricks
Krukemeyer has been prohibited from talking -- until today -- about the two-day makeover in August in which Irvine visited the 25-year-old Tex-Mex restaurant on Pearl Road, revamping the menu, rating the staff and giving the decor a $10,000 overhaul.
Now, he can tell the world how Irvine repeatedly blew up at him, his staff and Food Network producers.
"I never met such a hothead," Krukemeyer said.
Twice during the ordeal, Irvine set up the Mad Cactus to look bad in front of the camera, Krukemeyer maintains:
1. Irvine asked the staff to set up a mock buffet for the cameras, so they quickly set some trays of food into the slots. "You're putting hot food in cold water," Irvine blasted when the cameras rolled.
2. The fans in the kitchen were too loud, so they shut them off, but the temperature climbed to 100 degrees. So the producers told them to shut off all the equipment to let it cool. Again, Irvine pounced. "This food is cold," he announced to the cameras.
"They need stuff like that. They trick you," Krukemeyer said.
Still, he thought his restaurant came out looking good on the episode.
"We thought they were going to drill us," he said. "Then they turned it into a show about needing a general manager."
Some good came out the the experience, too -- plenty of publicity, a 20 percent increase in business, new paint and flooring, and more streamlined menu, better communication among the staff, and a popular new salsa bar.
"I know by talking to the tables that people love the new look and the salsa bar," Krukemeyer said. "Now it's up to us to keep it going."
Of course, he changed the menu shortly after the TV crews left, keeping Irvine's "puffy tacos," but returning ribs, chicken wings and a taco salad to the fare, and replacing Irvine's quesadillas and nachos with the Mad Cactus' original recipes.
What would Robert think? They'll probably find out soon -- Irvine will be in town this weekend for the Fabulous Food Show at the I-X Center, and Krukemeyer fully expects him to stop in.
"We'll welcome him and serve him up some good food," he said. "He'll be proud of us."