Monti Carlo had a dream to become a Food Network host, and it took her nearly two decades to achieve it. Her show Help My Yelp debuted earlier this month and airs on Mondays at 10:00 p.m.
I remember Monti from her days in Atlanta radio, and I became a huge fan and cheerleader of hers when she appeared on the third season of MasterChef in 2012, though I didn’t connect my memories of her on radio until after the season ended.
Since her time on MasterChef, I’ve had the privilege of developing a social media friendship with Monti, and I had the opportunity to talk to her about Help My Yelp and her tremendously uplifting story. Here’s our conversation.
Chris Queen: Tell us a little about Help My Yelp.
Monti Carlo: Help My Yelp is my very first show on Food Network! I get the incredible opportunity to visit restaurants with low Yelp ratings across the country. I have two days to assess why they’re scoring poorly, fix the problems and raise their score. A half a star bump on Yelp can increase your customer base by 20% at peak times and a full star bump can raise your profits by almost 10%. In a business of razor-thin margins, that could be the difference between keeping the doors open for another year or shutting it down.
CQ: What distinguishes your show from other “restaurant rescue” shows? What do you do that makes Help My Yelp unique?
MC: Gordon Ramsay and Robert Irvine are two of my heroes and they’ve practically built the restaurant makeover genre on their backs. Help My Yelp is very different from Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant Impossible. I’m not walking into a restaurant with a sledgehammer and knocking down walls or giving kitchens head to toe makeovers. I only have 48 hours. I assess the big issues via surveillance footage and Elite Yelper feedback. Yelp Elite are pro diners that have hundreds of reviews under their belt. They tell me where the restaurant is missing the mark in terms of customer service and quality of the food. I then propose solutions and motivate staff to incorporate those changes into service immediately. The restaurants still look and feel the same, they’ve just been tweaked a little. The biggest transformation is the one that the restaurant owners go through. It’s magic when they realize that by being present and proactive you can very quickly increase customer satisfaction and your Yelp rating exponentially.
CQ: What does it mean to you to see your dream of hosting your own show come true?
MC: When I got the call that the series had been greenlit I fell to my knees and did my best not to cry so I wouldn’t freak out the person on the other end of the line. I failed miserably. It’s been my dream to have a show on Food Network since I was in broadcasting school. It’s been 17 years of working towards this moment and I couldn’t be more thankful. I feel like I won the Super Bowl!
CQ: What’s your journey to this moment? What experiences are you drawing on – both in the culinary and broadcasting realms – in your role as a cooking show host?
MC: I started working in restaurants as a teenager. My mother had a Caribbean restaurant in Atlanta and my aunt had one in Puerto Rico. Having two strong women in my life that ran successful restaurants was very influential. Both of those restaurants have closed their doors and it gives me perspective. I know first-hand what’s at stake for these owners. Obviously, my experience working front and back of the house helps me figure out the changes that need to be made to improve customer service, but it’s my experience as a comedian and as a radio personality that gives me an edge. Being on air taught me how to ask the right questions and really get to the heart of things quickly. As a comedian, I learned how to make people comfortable in tough situations by making them laugh. However, it’s my experience as a mother that I draw upon the most. Being a mom has taught me to be empathetic, patient and to criticize with kindness. I think that’s what really sets this show apart.
CQ: You have an inspiring story. Would you like to share a little bit about your experiences and how they’ve built your character?
MC: When I was 24 years old, after years and years of working in restaurants, I signed up for broadcast school. It was a six-week course. On Day 1 I was asked what my dream was and I said I wanted to host a show on Food Network just like Emeril. On my way to school on Day 3, my car was hit by a dump truck. It was November of 1999.
I woke up from a coma to find that I had 19 broken ribs and a punctured lung. I checked myself out of the hospital as soon as I could stand and finished the last three weeks of school picking broken glass from my scalp and popping Aleve like M&M’s. In the 12 years that followed, I forgot about TV and became a radio host. I started a career in stand-up comedy. In the process, I moved across state lines seven times. I fell in love. I got married and had a son. I built a beautiful life for myself.
Things got turned upside-down, as they sometimes do, and I got divorced. I quit comedy and radio. I left everything I knew to nurse my son back to health from a bout with MRSA. My best friend was murdered in cold blood. I found myself in the darkest depression of my life. I was unemployed. I was a single parent. I was scared to death.
Somewhere in the fog that followed, I remembered my dream. I thought, “It’s too late. I’m too old.” And then the true blessing of hitting rock bottom revealed itself: I had nothing left to lose.
With the encouragement of loved ones I finally started to pursue my dream. I taught myself how to cook competitively and made it to the Top 5 of MasterChef. I started a food blog. I worked in kitchens all over L.A. I catered events and taught cooking classes. I developed recipes and consulted restaurants. I waited tables to make ends meet and when people asked me what my real job was I would say, “I’m going to be a Food Network Star.”
At one point I was working at three restaurants at the same time, and I was coming home with blisters on my feet and burns on my hands. I was barely making enough to pay rent but I didn’t give up. Food Network called my manager in September of 2015 (16 years after I had first told my broadcasting school instructor my dream!) and asked if I’d like to audition to host this show. The rest is history!
CQ: As a mom, how have you seen your love for cooking manifest itself in your son Danger’s life?
MC: Danger is seven years old and wants to be a chef when he grows up! It’s so awesome to see how excited he is about food. We love to go exploring for treats all over L.A. He breaks down what he thinks of each dish and will try anything at least once. When he has playdates at our house he loves making “Danger Snacks” for his friends. He makes menus for his “restaurant” and can’t wait to compete on Chopped Jr. He’s mastered the Mickey Mouse pancake. He helps me make apple pie and whips the cream on his own. He inspires me.
CQ: What’s your next goal or dream now that you’re a television show host?
MC: I want to write a food memoir and a cookbook! I also want to get some of my ideas for cooking shows on the air.
CQ: What advice do you have for people who are pursuing their dreams?
MC: Fall down seven times. Get up eight. Life will knock you down, but don’t ever stop the pursuit of your dream.
CQ: What’s your best advice for overcoming adversity?
MC: Keep going. Don’t get lost in negativity. In my experience, the worst things that have ever happened to me have been a gift, a course correction. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for you to make your dream come true. What matters is that you’re trying to make it happen and that in itself is a beautiful, glorious thing.
First run episodes of Help My Yelp Season 1 will air on Mondays at 10:00 p.m. on Food Network through May 15. Check out this fun and fascinating show! Here’s a preview:
— Monti Carlo (@TheMontiCarlo) April 28, 2017