Local restaurateur AJ Tusa was hesitant about appearing on Food Network's "Mystery Diners" at first, but he ultimately decided to let camera crews and producers film in his New Orleans-based Poppy's Crazy Lobster.
"I originally said I wasn't interested because I didn't want the negative press," Tusa told The Log Monday. "They assured me that it wouldn't be a problem."
Tusa, who owns and operates a total of nine restaurants between Destin and New Orleans, said crews from the show shot for a total of four days, sometimes filming for up to 18-hours-a-day. Since appearing on the show, Tusa said he has noticed an increase at Poppy’s Crazy Lobster, which has a sister restaurant at HarborWalk Village.
According to the Food Network's website, "When a restaurant owner suspects employees of not doing their jobs — whether it be stealing, lying, mistreating customers or generally doing lousy work — they call in the Mystery Diners. These Mystery Diners are undercover operatives who go into restaurants, bars and food service establishments with hidden cameras to perform surveillance to find out what's really going on when the boss isn't around."
With more than 40 years in the restaurant business, Tusa told The Log he has seen his fair share of employee shenanigans, but nothing that's over the top or out of line. So when he received the call from producers in Los Angeles, he wasn't sure what to think.
"They said I was a pretty colorful character and they wanted to feature my restaurant," he said. "It was more about finding a few storylines about something crazy."
He said the show helped him "identify a problem I may not have been able to identify myself."
Tusa's episode is called "Crazy Hearts," according to a listing on the site. The description says "After hearing complaints about constant fighting between the cooks and a bartender who brings wild animals into the restaurant for entertainment, AJ, the owner of Poppy's The Crazy Lobster in New Orleans, calls Charles (Stiles; president of Business Evaluation Services) for help. Mystery Diners Nicole and Amber discover a waitress may be causing all the drama."
Tusa said filming "wrapped up" months ago. The show first aired on TV June 14.
"About midway through the viewing of the show, our phones at the host stands kept ringing and people were asking us how late we were staying open," Tusa said of the immediate response to the show. "The amount of responses I've gotten so far has been unbelievable."
Since filming, Tusa told The Log he has become good friends with "Mystery Diners'" head Charles Stiles, who even invited Tusa to be a partner in a Pismo Beach, California restaurant.
To catch Tusa's episode of "Mystery Diners" tune into the Food Network (Channel 68 on Cox Cable) June 19 at 10 p.m., June 20 at 1 a.m. and June 23 at 3 p.m. To learn more about "Mystery Diners" visit www.foodnetwork.com/mystery-diners.
Looking back at the experience, Tusa told The Log he wouldn't change a thing.
"It was a lot of fun," he said. "I have no regrets."