Amid the pandemic, restaurants have seen devastating loss. While some have been able to stay afloat through curbside pickup and delivery, others have been forced to shut down. On a new show called Restaurant Recovery, streaming now on Discovery Plus, Raising Cane’s founder Todd Graves embarks on a cross-country mission to help save family-owned restaurants that have suffered during the pandemic.
Each episode of Restaurant Recovery focuses on a different restaurant in a different city. Graves invests $100,000 per restaurant and offers them creative ideas and helps them with renovations. One of these restaurants is Dallas’ Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que and Home Cooking, owned by brothers Juan and Brent Reaves.
“When Todd and their team came in, it was such a breath of fresh air for us,” Reaves says. “We were literally working 90 hours per week, trying to keep things rolling. We are so grateful.”
Named after the Reaves brothers’ father, who is the original owner, Smokey John’s first opened in 1976. In late 2017, the restaurant caught fire and was closed for 15 months. The restaurant reopened in January 2019, but John died just months later. Still, Juan and Brent carry on their father’s legacy.
When restaurants were first ordered to limit their operations in March 2020, Smokey John’s lost 55% of its sales and over $45,000 in catering orders. As of now, their dining room at 1820 W. Mockingbird Lane is still closed, but they are continuing to operate and are working their hardest to keep their crews employed.
“People just assumed if you didn't have a drive-thru, you weren't open,” Juan says. “Even now, people come up and say ‘When did you guys open back up?’ We never closed. We just adjusted. That reality is ... what really impacted this because the people were ordering, we were all still eating, but people just didn't know what was available to them.”
Graves says drive-thrus played a big role in helping fast-food chains remain open during the pandemic. In the early phases of COVID, he says Raising Cane’s lost 30% of their sales but quickly bounced back because of drive-thrus.
This, however, made him feel guilty, as people were frequenting fast-food restaurants as opposed to independently owned restaurants. He then felt compelled to bring attention to this issue.
“I had done television before, and I knew the power of it,” Graves says. “I knew it could really help these restaurants. I just hope that viewers will see it and then support small businesses in general.”
During the casting process, Graves was inspired by the Reaves brothers’ story, as well as their personalities. As someone who prides himself in having built his business “from the ground up,” Graves found many similarities within himself and the Reaves brothers.
“They didn’t let their people go because their dad didn’t let anyone go,” Graves says. “I’m glad I was able to help them because there was no way in hell they were going to let that restaurant close.”
In the episode, Smokey John’s receives a remodel, which Juan says was “everything [they] wanted.”
Although Brent and Juan haven’t watched all of the episodes, they are grateful for the work Graves did to help restaurants across the country keep from closing. They reiterate the fact that Raising Cane’s “One Love” slogan is more of a mentality than it is a tagline.
“With all of the division that's going on in our country, and all of the challenges, having a company that stands for ‘one love’ is building a bridge for communities,” Brent says. “And that is what we're about.”
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