Dave Johnson / The Tribune
PORT COLBORNE - When Kevin Echlin stuck around on a warm March day in 2012 to help one of his servers get through a busy shift, he didn’t know that one of his customers was quietly watching him, his staff and others seated at the Smokin’ Buddha.
That customer, who was in the city to visit her grandfather at Northland Pointe, happened to be a television producer for a show on Food Network Canada. While at the Niagara Region seniors home, she asked someone where a good place was to eat in the city.
They pointed her in the direction of Echlin’s restaurant, which opened October 2007 inside the old train station off King St.
Echlin’s cooks were pumping out food — a mix of Asian, Indian and Mexican cuisine — and he and his server were making sure everyone was taken care of. That caught the attention of the woman.
“She said, ‘What would you think about being featured on the Food Network?’ and asked if I had ever heard of the show You Gotta Eat Here. I said yes.”
The next question from the woman, who turned out to be a producer with You Gotta Eat Here, was whether Echlin wanted to be on the show.
“I was beside myself … I almost went numb. I was like, ‘Wow! OK,’”
The next day Echlin got a call and the ball started rolling on filming his restaurant for the show, hosted by John Catucci.
The show asked Echlin for a few things, like certain dishes to have ready.
“They film 78 shows across Canada and they didn’t want to duplicate any dishes. They looked at our menu and chose our peanut curry, Korean beef noodles, lamb pops and mango salad.”
When the show airs — Friday night at 9 — customers will be seen eating those items. The Korean beef noodles will be featured as one of the recipes on the You Gotta Eat Here website.
Echlin said the TV crew came down on a summer 2012 morning and, after filling out some paperwork and setting some parameters, set up to film.
“That Friday was an extremely busy day. They were filming and we were trying to operate, our cooks and servers were going hard.”
Echlin said filming went well as the restaurant went through the busy service and the film crew chatted with about 40 people who were inside Smokin’ Buddha at the time. As to whether those people make it on air, that will be seen Friday night.
Though a producer discovered Smokin’ Buddha on her own, loyal customers had written to You Gotta Eat Here to rave about the Port Colborne restaurant.
“Before they came down, they did some research on us. They found four people had written in in the last month and a half. Those people were featured and asked what they liked about the show and our restaurant,” Echlin said.
He said those people writing in helped make the restaurant a fan favourite, which means it will air in repeats a few more times.
After filming on the Friday, the You Gotta Eat Here crew came back on the Saturday and it was a closed set, just them and Echlin.
“We did a full day of filming, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They wanted me to go over the four dishes … they asked very specific questions, like what goes into the dishes, how I learned to cook. It was a full interview with me.”
The dishes were made for the crew, who ate them, and then wrapped up.
“John (Catucci) and the crew were all super, super nice people. They had a really good time and the whole crew said our staff was really back and that wherever they went in town, everyone was really helpful to them.”
Echlin said it was an absolute honour to be on the show and Food Network.
“I absolutely never expected this when I opened … if I jumped I couldn’t get any higher. We’ve made a point to do the best job we can and put out quality food.”