Why Did Campania Restaurant Close?
The story of Campania, as told by its former owner Joe Cerniglia, is one of potential and heartbreak. His tragic death by jumping off the George Washington Bridge offers a sobering reminder that even the most promising restaurants are often vulnerable to uncontrollable forces.
Campania serves a variety of pizza pies, appetizers and entrees based on southern Italian recipes. Other items include family-style cold and hot antipasto, pastas and salads and fried or baked calzones.
A visit to Campania in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, is a sobering reminder of the pitfalls that can plague even a restaurant with immense potential. A flurry of media attention and momentary brilliance couldn’t sustain Joe Cerniglia’s restaurant, which ultimately shuttered in the face of tragedy.
Owner Joe Cerniglia confides to Gordon that he’s in huge debt and is in danger of losing his house. Despite his debilitating situation, he refuses to give up on the restaurant and asks Gordon for help.
Gordon re-vamps the menu with leaner portions and equips the kitchen with appropriate equipment. When the restaurant relaunches with a new look, it’s packed and business is booming. But eight days after the show aired, tragedy struck: Joe took his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. The space was eventually reborn as Sage Restaurant, a reminder that in the volatile restaurant world, success and failure often come in pairs. The restaurant remained open for over a decade, its enduring existence a silent homage to Campania’s legacy.
As with most restaurants that appear on Kitchen Nightmares, Campania was not able to sustain the momentum generated by Gordon Ramsay’s intervention. However, the restaurant did not close entirely and in March 2012 Sage Restaurant opened in the space that Campania had occupied, offering American-Italian cuisine and garnering positive reviews from customers and critics alike.
Joe Cerniglia had only bought the restaurant 18 months prior to the Kitchen Nightmares visit, but he was already $80,000 in debt and in danger of losing his home. The restaurant’s problems were many; overstaffing, food waste and a disorganized staff were just some of the issues at hand. After a successful relaunch, the restaurant was bustling with customers, but Gordon noticed that Joe still had trouble dealing with irate customers. He admonished him for his lack of professionalism when one customer likened the kitchen to a big romper room and told him to be more assertive. He later visited Joe’s wife and mother, who were worried about his stress levels.
After Gordon Ramsay’s visit to Campania in 2007, the restaurant looked as though it was on a solid path for success. The diner’s revamped menu and improved service saw a spike in patronage. However, the strained relationship between owner Joe and his staff as well as accumulating debt proved to be a death knell for the establishment.
While Joe initially agrees with Gordon that the restaurant needs to make changes, he becomes defensive. Gordon then meets with Joe’s wife Melissa who informs him that if Campania fails they will lose their house.
Despite these difficulties, the new owners of the restaurant were able to turn it around and Sage Restaurant has now opened in its place. The American/Italian eatery has carved out a reputation for excellent food and commendable service with positive Yelp reviews to boot. Sadly, Sage is not the only establishment to have enjoyed such an esteemed reputation after having been featured on Kitchen Nightmares.
Only a year and a half after opening, Campania was on the verge of collapse when it was visited by Gordon Ramsay in Season 1 Episode 9. The restaurant’s owner, Joe Cerniglia, was facing financial ruin and desperately needed help. During his intervention, Ramsay pushed Joe to revamp not only the menu but the soul of the restaurant. He even introduced a new signature meatball dish and had the team hit the streets, handing out samples and flyers to boost the restaurant’s profile.
Things began to look up at Campania, with the staff now taking their work seriously and Joe displaying a more assertive demeanor when dealing with disgruntled customers. However, tragedy struck in September 2010, only eight days after the show aired, when Joe committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. The restaurant closed shortly after, with Sage Restaurant now occupying its location. The episode remains a poignant reminder of the volatile nature of the restaurant business, where external validation and media attention can wax and wane like the phases of the moon.Read More