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Amy’s Baking Company PR Scandal refers to an online feud that erupted between a restaurant owner in Arizona, United States and members of Reddit over an episode of Fox reality show Kitchen Nightmares aired in May 2013.
As early as August 2010, Scottsdale, Arizona restaurant Amy’s Baking Company began receiving poor reviews on Yelp, which became the focal point of a local news story (shown below) about the restaurant and its online notoriety. That same month, owner Amy Bouzaglo responded to the backlashes on the Yelp page, calling an unhappy reviewer names including “loser” and “moron” under the guise of a five-star review.
In 2013, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay went to the failing restaurant for an episode of his reality television show Kitchen Nightmares, which aired on May 10th, 2013. Owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo blamed their poor business on “haters” who were commenting on the restaurant’s Yelp page. Despite this, the owners were depicted reheating and serving prepared food and pocketing the wait staff’s tips. During the episode, Ramsay walked out, refusing to continue helping a client for the first time in the show’s history.
One day prior to the show’s national airing, a clip from the episode was shared on the /r/Videos subreddit, billed as the “craziest restaurant owners” in the show’s history. The post gained 7,784 upvotes, 2,966 points overall and nearly 1,000 comments before it was removed from the subreddit and commenting was disabled.
On May 13th, Redditor dojosnail submitted a screenshot of Amy’s Baking Company’s Facebook page (shown below) to /r/CringePics, claiming that the owners were having a public meltdown over criticism from the Kitchen Nightmares episode. The post gained more than 9,200 upvotes, 2,800 points overall and nearly 2,800 comments within 48 hours. On March 14th, two additional screenshots were submitted to /r/CringePics by two different Redditors, each gaining more than 1,400 points each. That evening, all three posts were removed with most of their comments hidden.
At around 6pm EST on May 14th, all of the offending posts had been removed from their Facebook page. The owners left a status update claiming their website as well as all of their social media accounts had been hacked and they would be working with the FBI to track down the perpetrators.
On May 15th, former Amy’s Baking Company waitress Katy Cipriano participated in an “ask me anything” session on the /r/IAmA subreddit, which received upwards of 28,800 up votes and 9,700 comments within six days. In the post, she acknowledged that the Bouzaglos treated their staff very poorly and that they were portrayed accurately in the episode of Kitchen Nightmares.
Also on May 15th, the Amy’s Baking Company Facebook page posted a status update announcing a press conference event for the restaurant’s “Grand Re-Opening” on the evening of May 21st. In addition, the culinary news blog Eater reported that the Bouzaglos hired the PR firm Rose+Moser+Allyn Public & Online Relations to assist their media event.
“Customers will be able to decide who is correct: a famous celebrity chef or the marketplace that has supported the small, locally-owned business for six years.”
However, on May 17th, FOX lawyers sent the Bouzaglos a formal notice reminding their agreement to not speak publicly about the reality TV show and threatening legal action if they proceeded to hold a press conference to talk about Kitchen Nightmares (shown below). By May 21st, AZ Central and other news sites reported that the planned event had been canceled due to legal threats and a fall out with the PR firm over “strategy disagreements.”
Later that same day, the Phoenix New Times published several photographs from the re-opening event, noting that security guards and police officers prevented press members from approaching the restaurant. Meanwhile, AZ Central reported that the crowd at the event was “thin.”
On May 21st, the Phoenix New Times reported that co-owner of the restaurant Samy Bouzaglo may be facing deportation from the United States in a two-year-long immigration case. On the following day, AZ Central reported that Bouzaglo had a past criminal history which involved “drug distribution, threats and extortion” and that he had been banned from entering both France and Germany.
Employee Contract Leaked
On June 28th, 2013, Radar Online published an article reporting on a leaked legally binding contract that Amy’s Baking Company employees were required to sign in order to work at the restaurant. The agreement contained a list of 20 provisions, many of which penalized staff financially if they were broken. Pay would be withheld if food was burned or plates were broken and if an employee failed to show up for a holiday or weekend shift, they would be “penalized with a fee of $250.00.” The contract also included a non-compete agreement, which prevented ex-staff from working at a competing restaurant within a 50 mile radius for an entire year after termination for resignation.
In the coming days, the leaked contract was reported on by several news sites, including MSN, Fox News, Eater and the IBI Times. On July 2nd, Redditor tlgnome24 submitted a post about the contract to the /r/WTF subreddit, which gained over 9,100 up votes and 1,700 comments in the first nine hours.