At the end of the episode, which aired this week, Ives was presented with a check for $17,500, something she knew how to handle: she shared it with the 60 or so employees at her two restaurants, from waiters to line cooks to dishwashers. Ives knew they had been through a lot in the twists and turns of the pandemic.
Originally, Ives had planned to take everyone on a much-needed vacation and maybe rent out a small resort or cabins for some team fun. But when it came time to make plans after the show taped in August, and when the Omicron variant was floating around, she realized people really wanted a break that they could only spend with their families. And so, at the end of the year, everyone got a paid week off thanks to their game show winnings.
“I wanted to remind them that they are the engine of this entire operation,” says Ives, who prides himself on her low turnover – such as the dishwasher who stayed there for almost 12 years and now works as a line chef. “I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I’m so thankful and grateful to have her in my corner.”
Many contestants on host Guy Fieri’s “Triple G” show, in which chefs comb the shelves of a mock supermarket and then prepare dishes in various challenges, talk about using their profits to grow or invest in their business. But Ives’ vows to reward her employees are rarer — and come at a time when restaurant workers are particularly stressed and drained.
Ives staff, like many restaurants, had adapted since the 2020 coronavirus shut down indoor dining. They’ve adjusted to a takeout-only business, she says, and they’ve all struggled to master the new online ordering system they’ve introduced. They reopened with limited seating and lived with the stress of crowding customers – and each other – in close quarters. Ives says they didn’t complain but she saw the cracks.
“When someone who’s normally quiet blows a seal because a busser forgot to clear a glass from Table 3, you know that person is under stress,” she says.
Ives says she’s grateful to have the chance to share her good fortune, but it wasn’t a given. When the producers of Guy’s Grocery Games called to ask if she would be involved, she was initially skeptical. She wasn’t sure if she was up to it, as she hadn’t cooked regularly in her restaurants’ kitchens in years (she opened the first location in 1994 and a second in 2007). In fact, she was pretty sure she would screw it up.
But Ives had previously appeared on another of Fieris Food Network shows, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and the spiky-haired TV personality’s attention had been great for business. Day-trippers from far-flung places like Kentucky and New Jersey arrived after the 2019 broadcast. Her restaurants were already full before the nationwide publicity, but Ives says pressure from “Triple D” fans pushed her and her staff to close their game improve.
And she liked the premise of the international episode she was asked to join, which pitted restaurateurs from immigrant-owned establishments highlighted by Fieri in “Triple D.” It was an opportunity to showcase the cuisine of her native Jamaica, which she left for Brooklyn in 1989 before moving to Richmond, where she was surprised to find such a large market for then-unknown oxtails and curries.
“I thought it would be so ungrateful of me to say no,” she says. “So I figured I’d just have to find my big girl panties and do this.”
And so she found herself in the midst of strict protocols and testing as she competed against Brazilian, Korean and Pakistani chefs. To her own surprise, she won both rounds of the show with two challenges.
Ives is already experiencing another round of what has become known in the restaurant industry as the “Fieri Effect” – the well-documented surge in visibility that follows an appearance on the food personality’s shows. People are asking to try the dishes she made on the show, which she might add to the menu as a special.
But even if business picks up, she says she’s content to rely on the strategy she’s found to work so far. “I take care of my people,” she says, “and they take care of the customers.”