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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.

"I'd never even met him until two minutes earlier," said Krukemeyer, who owns the , focus of a Restaurant: Impossible makeover this August.

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.

Oops.

"Robert came flying out of the production trailer," Krukemeyer said, grinning. "He got right in my face, screaming."

That's why he was stunned when the and Irvine

"We were shocked. The whole staff was surprised," Krukemeyer said. "The intensity when they were here just didn't come through on the show."

A Few Tricks

Krukemeyer has been prohibited from talking -- until today -- about the 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.

The Aftermath

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."

, 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."

Amanda Harnocz November 08, 2011 at 02:21 PM
This story is great! I'm so glad he talked to you about what really happened, Debbie!
Paul W November 10, 2011 at 03:41 AM
I'm calling BS. I think other places would be complaining if Irvine was like this. Two things from the show was clear: 1) The owner didn't want to change much except the look of the place. 2) The owner had little clue how to run it. Hopefully it works out for him. I fly into the area from time to time. I'll have to try it out.
Margo November 13, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Watching the show now. The restaurant was filthy and dated. Typical "I'm the boss" attitude hopefully did well getting a dose of reality. Irvine may be a bit of a prima Donna, but I'll bet he did some good for Tom. I agree with Paul W.--and wish you all much success.
Kara Simpson November 15, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Unbelievable! You applied and asked this show for help. They redecorated your restaurant for free and business is now up 20% because of them and you have the nerve to bit** and moan about Robert Irvine and the Food Network and diss the new menu suggestion? Because you know best right? If you're so smart and business savvy why was your restaurant failing?
sophie November 19, 2011 at 08:25 PM
I just watched Restaraunt Impossible. Did the owner actucally say he has 43 employees??? For such a small space he must be doing really good business. Maybe he just wanted a free makeover. Wow, 43 employees --I didn't see the slot machines and dance poles but they must have been there someplace. Robert Irvine--luv ya but you got pranked!!!!!! 43 employees......geeeze.
sophie November 19, 2011 at 08:25 PM
I just watched Restaraunt Impossible. Did the owner actucally say he has 43 employees??? For such a small space he must be doing really good business. Maybe he just wanted a free makeover. Wow, 43 employees --I didn't see the slot machines and dance poles but they must have been there someplace. Robert Irvine--luv ya but you got pranked!!!!!! 43 employees......geeeze.
B February 11, 2012 at 03:13 AM
This place sucked before the show and still sucks after the show.
Debbie H February 21, 2012 at 12:56 AM
I liked the coin operated donkey Irvine removed..hopefully it was put to good use somewhere..my girlfriends & I used to ride it & take pictures after drinking a few margaritas..might be going there for Fat Tues tomorrow..1st time since the makeover..
Chris March 17, 2012 at 06:06 PM
So how was it on Fat Tuesday?
bob May 17, 2012 at 01:13 AM
This place has always been a ****hole. The food is awful and the people who work there are annoying at best. They want entertainment but won't pay for good bands so you get bad throw-together bands and stupid little duos playing with taped background tracks. This place is simply awful. Go anywhere else.
Sonia M. June 04, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Just watched the episode and read this article. I am really surprised how the owner Tom was not appreciative of what Robert Irvine or food network did for Mad Cactus. I hope him the best still but I think he was manipulative and he tricked the food network for a free makeover. I don't think I want to visit his restaurant anymore!!!
Sonia M. June 04, 2012 at 04:52 PM
One more thing- why did Tom ( the owner) asked food network for help in the first place? Instead they could have gone to a different restaurant who desperately needed it. Mad Cactus owner just wasted Robert Irvines time and talent. Shame on him!!!!
strongsville resident August 03, 2012 at 07:48 PM
I've been there since the makeover and Mad Cactus still feels "stuck" in their old ways. The food is ok/good but my main complaint is the servers. In general, they are very hardcore (picture "truckstop diner"), have horrible people skills and are confrontational and defensive with customers. They stand in a "pack" in the back of the dining room talking amongst themselves and apparently, the owner is ok with this. I'm not ok with it and I have not been back even though it's very close to my home.
Grammer September 06, 2012 at 09:10 PM
I'm sorry this place ever did a "makeover". We use to go at least once a month for the fajitas and their pork chops and the salsa / chips. When we went post makeover we found the porkchops had been removed from the menu. The atmosphere had been replaced with a very sterile , non tex mex, look. We went once and will NEVER be back
RIch B December 25, 2012 at 05:40 AM
I haven't been there but after watching the episode, reading this article then notiving their Yelp! rating is in the toilet (with detailed comments explaining why from numerous customers) I can't help but think the owner's attitude could be helped by a little humility and appreciation. He just slandered a person and show (ergo that person's livelihood) that gave his business a welfare handout because he begged for it. Check yoself fool!
Krystina January 03, 2013 at 02:05 AM
I think the owner needs to get over himself. He's a hothead himself. If his resturant was amazing, don't waste the show's time.
bob mcmillan January 03, 2013 at 08:54 AM
I think you should be thankful no matter what they did to make a good show,after all it is tv and you got a much needed free makeover not to metion a ton of free publicity.and I you should of got robert his coffee,he helped you out.
kimberly January 03, 2013 at 08:58 AM
I agree! Completely!! They have no right to complain, and they obviously are VERY Ungrateful, as they reverted back to their old nasty recipies and it's apparent that it's not working for them, because they have crappy YELP reviews! http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-mad-cactus-strongsville Too bad they took someone else's slot who might have really appreciated the show's help...Esp in this economy!
Gerry Shamray January 05, 2013 at 08:10 PM
I'm currently re-watching it on the Food Network right now to refresh my memory. Weak episode. The redesign was a disappointment. I remember the poor paint job when I visited after the fact and I now see it was a mad dash to get it done by the staff. Too bad they didn't get one of the other designers like Tanya. Reading this article I'm surprised anyone would run to tell their staff the first chance they got to call the guy who just arrived to help save the place a jerk. I'm sure the producers created some of the drama for the show, that's to be expect, but I agree with a lot of the things Irvine said, especially about cooking food fresh instead of letting it sit for 6 to 7 hours. The salsa bar was a great idea too.
DC January 17, 2013 at 01:10 AM
Just saw a rerun of this episode. I ate there one time and the food was terrible, now I know why. I doubt it is any better considering the attitude of the jerk off owner. How ungrateful are you Tom????
Michael J. Martinez July 28, 2013 at 05:33 AM
So Grammer you liked eating over dust and canned goods and taking the chance at getting sick or food poisoned? Sounds like you have real good taste there buddy. You and whoever else says the place was better before didn't like the mad cactus you guys liked the cheap steak and cheap prices that broke him cuz he didn't listen and point fingers at everyone that helped him cuz he can't be a man and say he messed up. You sound just as smart as Tom. Fools!

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