As a young child, Jean Gould would stand on a chair and watch her mother cook.
That love of cooking extended into adulthood—first for her church, then in her own restaurant.
The teaser on the "Kitchen Nightmares" website says: "Chef Ramsay travels to the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA, to help a desperate retired special education teacher, Jean, who put her entire life's savings into her failing restaurant. Ms. Jean's Southern Cuisine has a gained a negative reputation in the community for the bad food and even worse service. Customers even say that Ms. Jean gets nasty if they have a complaint about the food. While Ms. Jean blames her staff for the restaurant's problems, they point the blame right back at her. With no system in place, Chef Ramsay tries to bring some sanity back into this restaurant and build back her customer base and reputation in the community."
Even though that description of her and her restaurant might have a negative bite, Gould calls it "the most exciting thing of my life."
Though her career was as a teacher, Gould started out wanting to be a restaurateur.
Gould first took her cooking from her home kitchen to her church, Victory Temple on Graham Boulevard in Penn Hills. And the positive reactions got her thinking about taking her culinary creations a step further.
"The more I did it, the more they wanted it," she said. "I'm in my element. I have a passion for cooking and preparing food."
In 2000, she opened Jean's Soul Food Restaurant on Wood Street in Wilkinsburg. She learned that running a restaurant took more than just cooking—that there was a lot of business acumen needed, too.
"The challenge is just wearing about 10 hats, running all over the place," said Gould, who sat down (and up and down) for an interview with Patch between hustling in the kitchen and bustling as she served a steady stream of lunchtime customers.
In the 12 years she's been in business for herself, she's only had two days where she wasn't at work when the restaurant was open.
After about seven years at the Wood Street location, she moved the restaurant to a former bank building in Wilkinsburg's Penn Avenue business district and renamed it Ms. Jean's Southern Cuisine. But the last few years, the building has been for sale and Gould knew that her days there were numbered.
"I had no idea where I was going to go at all," she said.
And then she got the call from "Kitchen Nightmares." Gould explains that a friend wrote to the show in an effort to help save the restaurant.
The show's staff came out three times this spring to conduct interviews. The production staff made her new tables and provided chairs, helped find paintings to enhance the decor and gave her new chinaware.
"They knew we were moving," she noted.
About four months ago, she moved into a new location in Hosanna House, the multi-purpose community center on Wallace Avenue in Wilkinsburg that serves more than 35,000 people a year. The restaurant occupies the space that was once the cafeteria when the building was Horner Middle School, providing ample kitchen space as well as a restaurant area.
Though it's a different location, Gould is still grateful for the help the show provided her—as well as the chance to acquaint more people with her restaurant.
As for how Chef Ramsay helped her revive Ms. Jean's Southern Cuisine—well, tuning in to the show is the only way to find that out. One thing she'll share is that Ramsay helped her change the menu.
With a national television show behind her, Gould is looking ahead. Her vision is to write a book one day that would be part biography, part cookbook.
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Ms. Jean's Southern Cuisine is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. An all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet is offered on Saturdays. On Sundays, an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet is offered from 2 to 7 p.m.
For the last six years, Gould has offered a free Thanksgiving meal for those with no place to go for the holiday.