DENVER - After months of waiting, a Denver Italian restaurant revamped by Chef Gordon Ramsay will appear on the TV show, "Kitchen Nightmares" Friday.
Owner Pete Fafalios opened the pizzeria Pantaleone's in 1985. But in recent years, the restaurant has lost business.
Already struggling financially before the restaurant re-launch, Fafalios said he lost some of his existing customers after Chef Ramsay cut unprofitable items from the menu.
Fafalios is praying publicity from the show will save him from having to shut down.
The show was originally scheduled to air on Fox in February. It is finally airing Friday night.
"It can't happen fast enough," Fafalios told TheDenverChannel writer Anica Padilla, with his palms pressed together in prayer.
The 62-year-old estimates he works 70-80 hours a week, making everything fresh from scratch -- including the sauce, the sausage and his legendary pizza dough.
"I make my own dough. That's what kept me going 29 years," Fafalios said proudly. A bit begrudgingly, he added, "It's the one thing Ramsay didn't change."
The changes Ramsay and his team made are extensive. They remodeled Pantaleone's dining room with new tables, walls and art, bought a $10,000 stainless steel stove, and a brand new catering van.
When asked why Ramsay chose to help his restaurant, Fafalios claps his hands and laughs.
"My family!" Fafalios says with a huge smile. Then he is suddenly serious.
"Gordon likes family and we had a lot in common, family-wise. A lot of heartaches." Faflios stops, not wanting to reveal too much about the world-famous chef he now calls a friend.
But he tells me about taking out a VISA and sending his brother $10,000 to save his house in Greece.
Fafalios imitates Ramsay jabbing him in the chest with a finger.
"Gordon said, 'You tried to save your brother with no money. You're a good man.'"
And Pantaleone's is a family affair. Fafalios' younger son Joshua, 33, helps run the kitchen.
Adding to the already-intense situation, Fafalios says Josh grew up idolizing Chef Ramsay.
"When [Ramsay] came in the restaurant, [Josh] lost his voice. Gordon goes 'What's wrong with you?! Did he castrate you?'" Fafalios laughs.
But Fafalios admits he felt the pressure, too.
"The margherita pizza came out beautiful, the most beautiful pizza I've ever made," Fafalios says. Then he imitates Ramsay turning up his nose and walking away. "He's so damn arrogant, he can never admit something is good."
And Chef Ramsay also had a few extra challenges up his sleeve to really turn up the heat on the night of the re-launch.
Ramsay sabotaged the stove, replaced a dishwasher with a production assistant, tossed out a waiter, and sent Fafalios' 17-year-old grandson to talk to Miss Colorado.
"You think those were the only challenges? You will have to see the part about the van!" Fafalios says.
"If you see the episode, don't judge me," Fafalios pleads. "I cussed in Greek at the waiter."
But Fafalios refuses to let anything stand in his way.
"I'm telling you, I never back down."
His spirit, determination and experience kicked in when it really counted.
"When you get stuck in the kitchen with 20 tickets, forget the 19 tickets. You start one at a time and at the end you'll be OK."
But for now, Fafalios' hopes are pinned on people seeing his episode on Kitchen Nightmares. And he says Chef Ramsay is his biggest supporter.
"The last speech [Ramsay] gives, you know when he does this (smacks hands), he said, 'I never wanted anyone to make it so bad as these people.'"
Ramsay already plans to revisit Pantaleone's for a follow-up that will air next season, Fafalios said.
"We're supposed play soccer when he comes back," Fafalios smiles.
So what was the best part of the whole experience?
"To me, as a chef, it was a honor to meet this guy and work with him in the kitchen," Fafalios says. "It was the thrill of a lifetime, it really was."
He also got some vindication.
Chef Ramsay signed his recipe book, "P.S. I do love your dough."
Check it out for yourself! For more information about Pantaleone's menu, delivery service, location and hours: http://www.pantaleones.net/