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Reality show hits Warrenville to cast for 'America's Next Great Restaurant'
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

More than 200 people, including Kevin Sawicki of Lisle, take part in a casting call for a new NBC reality show about restaurants at Chipolte Mexican Grill in Warrenville on Sunday.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

A couple hundred people showed up in Warrenville on Sunday for a chance to appear on "America's Next Great Restaurant," a competitive reality show to air on NBC.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/29/2010 12:08 AM

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The restaurant ideas varied greatly. There was the Hawthorn Woods mother who wants to help revitalize downtown Lake Zurich. The Milwaukee man who said he thinks a whole-grain fast-food joint will be the next big thing in food.

And the Arlington Heights woman who thinks childhood obesity is out of control and the cure could include an Amsterdam-inspired restaurant that allows children to prepare food for adults, while learning the benefits of nutrition.

What the people had in common, however, was they were some of the more than 200 Sunday to pitch their ideas to NBC officials as they decide their lineup for "America's Next Great Restaurant," a new reality competition series featuring celebrity chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay.

While all hoped they would be chosen, many of those in line said they had already reaped some benefits just by showing up.

"I need the momentum to move it forward from this vague vision in my head to reality," said Leslie Meredith, who said she has had the children's restaurant idea in her head for nearly 15 years. "I have general managerial experience but I need those right connections with people who are in the business. This is a place to make those connections."

As people waited in line for what some called a chance to be on a food version of "American Idol," some made connections with those in line and agreed to follow up if nothing came of the audition.

Prospective restaurateurs lined up to do an on-camera pitch of between three and five minutes. Casting assistant Jamie Tamashiro will then take those to casting directors. She said presentations have been impressive.

"It's their opportunity to shine," she said. "Our main thing is to emphasize you don't have to be a chef or even have any restaurant experience."

Restaurateur-hopefuls registered online in advance and filled out a pretty detailed application.

As John Damico quipped: "I've gotten jobs with less information. Damico is a Milwaukee-area chef who was on hand hoping for a jump-start to his efforts to re-enter the restaurant business. Damico hopes his idea for a whole grain-centered menu wins out.

"People are looking for fun food that is not going to kill them," he said. "There should be fast food that is actually good for them."

He said he has had this plan on the back burner for quite some time. And if things do not work out, the fact he was joined by an old friend made the trip worth it.

"Opportunity meets preparedness, some call it luck," he said. "At the very worst, it's time spent with a good friend."