Bobby Flay's got balls...
Last Wednesday night during a commercial break for the “Minute To Win It” game show with Guy Fieri, I saw a promo for an upcoming reality series called, “America’s Next Great Restaurant” coming in March to NBC.
It’s a show where regular people go on and speak to a panelist of high profile investors to try and convince them to invest in their “next great restaurant” and turn their “novel” concept into a nationwide chain.
Celebrity chef Bobby Flay is involved in the project, I guess as some sort of consultant/judge (and apparently an investor?) I understand Flay is very successful with Bobby’s Burger Palaces and BBP is certainly a high quality franchise, but come on now, the trailer references how the invention of such establishments like Subway and KFC “changed the way we eat”—as if that’s a good thing??
The worst part of all is that one of the contestants/cast members on this series is a meatball guy. There was a clip of him talking about his idea, “Saucy Balls,” and he mentioned how he wants to bring his recipe—featuring “Grandma’s 3 Meat Meatballs”—to the masses. The clip was short, but from what I saw, this guy looks like a bit of a clown. My initial reaction was to post this video on facebook and I will admit, it got me fired up. Now I don’t want to come off as having sour grapes because I picked the wrong reality show to debut the Johnny Meatballs Empire on. That’s certainly not the case and my experience with Vh1 has led to a lot of open doors. With my continued dedication, the door to my own meatball shop will eventually open and that will be much more gratifying than just being handed a franchise. So I’d like to explain here what it was that got me so fired up. Mr. Saucy Balls is seen rolling meatballs and discussing “his” concept with a big grin on his face and then doing kicks and spins. Hmm…I thought to myself…
Did he see me on TV and rip-off my idea, I immediately thought? Then, I took a step back. One cannot “trademark” a recipe or an idea to sell a food that’s already been cooked and sold for centuries dating back to the ancient Romans. So even if Mr. Saucy Balls did decide to do this because he saw me on TV, he still has every right to move forward with his venture. After all, this is America, we all have the right to make a living as we choose and there’s plenty of room for healthy competition. But a few things irked me when I saw him.
They say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and that’s certainly true, but this poser showed no originality. Again, he is entitled to try to earn a living selling meatballs. I just don’t like the fact that he is “introducing” a “new” idea on a reality show for “Trinity” meatballs to Bobby Flay after I did that not too long ago. I mean I just went national with this on Nov. 1st, 2010 on “My Big Friggin’ Wedding” and this NBC show is still months from airing. Seems too close for comfort and it seems that the producers of “America’s Next Great Restaurant” are clearly trying to capitalize on a very popular food right now and trying to somehow pass this guy off as the originator of it. Not to mention the fact that they are devaluing meatballs in my opinion since this whole program is basically promoting fast food chains as the best stuff one can eat—when it’s just the opposite.
This individual seemed to be directly copying my whole “Johnny Meatballs” persona while trying to simultaneously squeeze himself into the cheap “Pizza Hut” category. I wouldn’t be surprised if his nickname was “Joey Meatballs.” That would be really ballsy! I figured I’d do some research. I didn’t find out much, which lead me to believe that this character didn’t make it very far. When I Googled “Saucy Balls” it showed nothing and instead brought up the term, “saggy balls.” No joke. One article I did find mentioned that he acts like a “Jersey Shore” wannabe. Ok, whatever, I still did not find out his real name or anything else about him.
Look, meatballs are a big thing here on the East Coast, especially to us passionate Italian-Americans. I know The Meatball Shop in NYC has been around before me (coincidentally not owned and operated by Italians, but I digress). I’m not in any way saying that I “invented” the concept of bringing meatballs to the masses. This rant is about the importance of maintaining individuality and why I take so much pride in that.
There’s actually a meatball guy based out of my home state of New Jersey who has been around since 2008 (I’ll refer to his brand as “MM”). He sells frozen six-packs in grocery stores. But we are totally different. I am a young, spiky-haired cugine from the neighborhood with colorful packaging, and as my loyal fans know, music and comedy are always at the forefront with JM. I introduced my balls along with my plan to bring back that fun-filled “Sunday afternoon experience” on Vh1…and I call the red stuff gravy. MM is older, more formal and low-key in his marketing and product branding and he calls it sauce. His TV connection was cooking on Martha Stewart’s show. But the main thing that sets us apart is that his meatball is an all-beef product. Mine are the first and only commercially-sold meatballs made of “The Trinity” of veal, pork and beef. See, I do my thing and MM does his.
The fact is, there’s always going to be a Burger King and a McDonald’s. Burger King is known for their “flame-grilled” Whoppers and use a King as their spokesman, while McDonald’s is of course famous for the fried double-stacked Big Macs and have Ronald the clown and the golden arches. Both are famous hamburger franchises, but both are easily distinct. I don’t perpetuate either, but that’s besides the point.
There’s thousands of guidette wannabes/copycats that came before and after “Snookie” of “Jersey Shore”—girls with poofs in their hair who have orange skin and wear jungle print. But if a girl took her exact wardrobe and look and went on a reality show eating pickles and called herself “Snickie” or “Sookie,” I’m sure Snookie’s lawyers would be putting a cease and desist order out. There is “Ace of Cakes” and “Cake Boss,” two bakery shows on cable. The former features a Jewish chef named Duff from Baltimore, while the latter documents an Italian named Buddy from Hoboken. It’s not like Buddy is calling himself “Ace.” I carved out an entire persona with “Johnny Meatballs,” and Flay’s guy looks like an exact rip-off of Johnny Meatballs (the food AND the person!) What’s next, is Saucy going to write and record a “Meatball Song”? As public record shows, I obviously already did that.
Am I angry? No. Am I going to contact a laywer? Of course not. I’m not writing this because I’m jealous or because I’m calling for a boycott of the show. I’ll be intently tuning in to watch Saucy’s whole schtick before I get too crazy. Maybe I’m making something out of nothing. Maybe he is actually a good chef who is just a coincidental counterpart of yours truly and he never even heard of me. Could be the case. Leave it to my wife and meatball CEO to put some things into perspective for me. She reminded me that no matter how interesting and entertaining Johnny Meatballs (the public figure) is, the bottom line is, making sure that Johnny’s Meatballs (the food) is indeed the best always has to take top priority. To that, I totally agree. I am the real deal. My meatballs are not just a gimmick for fame, and I wouldn’t call myself the Meatball King if I didn’t truly believe that they are the best. But I want America to judge.
So here’s my open invitation to Bobby Flay and his “Saucy Balls” friend:
I challenge you Mr. Saggy, er, Saucy Balls to a throwdown. Let’s settle this in the kitchen.
The Johnny Meatballs
(The one and only. Accept no substitutes.)
PS- Would love to take you on too, Bobby. Anywhere, anytime!
For my all magnificent “Meatball Minions” out there, I would like to thank you for all your kind words and support. I have two major announcements I’d like to make at this time. The first is that I have found my publisher for the long-awaited “Johnny Meatballs Book” and it will be coming out this spring! The second is—if all goes according to plan—my dream to open The Johnny Meatballs Stand will indeed come to fruition in 2011. I’m scouting locations every day and plan to open up in a permanent location in New Jersey real soon!