I was absolutely thrilled to be a featured guest on TV’s “Check, Please! Bay Area” on Thursday, August 2, on Channel 9. Miss the episode? Want to watch it again? You can watch it right here online!

I’m so grateful to all of my friends, supporters and family for helping me to promote the episode like no tomorrow across the Bay Area (and beyond). As of the date of this blog post, the online version of the show has been viewed over 12,000 times with viewers far away as Taiwan and Singapore! And I’m sure the TV viewership was far higher!

Backstory: How My Check Please Bay Area Journey Began

Leslie Sbrocco and Lee Lonitz - have we drank enough?In May of last year, I met the effervescent wine sommelier and food phenom Leslie Sbrocco at a grand opening for a Total Wine & More store in Mountain View, California. I had watched Leslie on “Check, Please! Bay Area” and was an avid fan of both the show and her fabulousity. (Yes, it’s a word. Just ask Bette Midler.)

Truth be told, I had already contemplated applying for the show and after having time to mingle with Leslie,  and speaking with the show producers, I knew I would eventually apply.

Not sure why it took me several months (perhaps it was stage fright?) but I finally applied to be on the show and a few weeks later, a friendly staff member granted me a phone interview. Not too long afterward the show producers invited me into KQED studios in San Francisco for an in-person interview. I remember how both my excitement and nervousness was starting to build as I had never been on TV and although I had given social media talks in front of large audiences, I knew I was venturing into totally new territory. The staff were so friendly and welcoming making me comfortable. After about an hour-long interview, I left hopeful and confident of being on the show.

In mid-January I received official word that I was accepted to be on the show. I was absolutely ecstatic (I practically jumped for joy in my head.) Imagine what a rush it was to start off the new year with such news! I excitedly shared the news with both family, friends, and colleagues who were in turn charged up with excitement. I felt my path pointing in a new direction.


Operation: Get Out and Eat

Over the next month I and two other guests (who were a mystery to me at the time) were tasked with visiting a geographic triangle of 3 pre-selected restaurants: Taurinus Brazilian Steakhouse (my restaurant) in San Jose, Ba-Bite in Oakland, and Finn Town Tavern in San Francisco. The rule: we were not allowed to let the restaurants know we were there to review for the show. I think that was the second biggest challenge during the process — to remain incognito amidst all the bustling enthusiasm bursting within (I remember thinking to myself “if you only knew I am!”).  Also we were not allowed to disclose our picks to anyone (including friends) until the show had aired. If I had a tomato for the number of times friends asked me which restaurant I was showcasing, I’d be a juicy red all over!

Over the course of a month my spouse and I visited all three restaurants and enjoyed being undercover food critics, reviewing food, service and ambiance at all 3 locations.

Lights, Camera, Food!

Film This Please! Bay Area!

In early Spring, I was called in for a live taping of the show. In the green room before the taping I finally got to meet my two other partners in food crime: salesman extraordinaire Daniel Reeder who was representing his pick Finn Town) and food writer Alix Wall, who was representing Ba-Bite. Together our trifecta formed a triangle around the Bay in restaurant picks. People were so friendly at the studio.

Taping was so fun. I sat around with my fellow guests at the table (did I mention I was screaming in my head “oh my gosh, I’m sitting next to Leslie Sbrocco! AAAH!”). Leslie was such a riot (if you were a fly on the wall you would drop in laughter) and helped us feel comfortable in our own skin throughout the taping.

The show premiered on KQED Channel 9 on Thursday, August 2 to a charged audience And the rest is food history!

7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Show

  1. The show is filmed in segments (vs. non-stop) to give guests time to relax, chatter and (yes) drink wine!
  2. Guests on each show do not know each other until the day of taping
  3. Restaurants do not know in advance which guests are visiting their restaurants (nor when)
  4. Filming at restaurants occurs after all 3 guests have dined and submitted their restaurant reviews
  5. Remember those little funny guest intros at the beginning? They’re actually filmed at the end of the taping.
  6. One of us three guest from our episode secretly had to redo his/her intro due to an over-the-top look
  7. What about all my one-liners and quippy puns? Scripted or off-the-tongue? You decide!

How You Can Be On The Show

You can apply to be a guest on the show by visiting the “Check, Please! Bay Area” website. You’ll need to fill out an online form which includes three restaurants you’d suggest (in case one of your picks needs to be switched out). Also you’ll need to write a short essay of about 2,500 words (yes short). (Pro Tip: Take the 2,000 words…you stand a higher chance of being interviewed if you do more than just say “I love this place. End of story.”)

What’s Next for this “TV Star”?

Perhaps it was my enthusiasm. Possibly it was my prose. Maybe it was even all the one-liners I landed. Regardless, I apparently developed quite a “fan-dom”. To those who have called me a “star” and have said to cast my own show, I am so flattered and honored by your support.

So what’s next for me? More restaurant videos? My own TV show? I’m not sure yet, but I do know I’m excited about new options to CHECK out and people are saying PLEASE do! I will be releasing a mini video series of my travel food adventures at the 3 Check, Please restaurants above. The mini-series will be available on  Instagram TV (IGTV) sometime in September 2018.

Again I’m so thankful to all of my friends, supporters and family for your faith in and support of me both before the show, during, and in the months up to the show airing. As a dear friend of mine always says, “it takes a village.” I broke new barriers for myself and I’m so grateful for people who put wind beneath my wings when I was apprehensive to soar to new places.

So, who’s hungry for more?

(UPDATE: On Aug 8, I learned that Ba-Bite is closing its doors on Aug 14 to due a landlord tenancy issue. You can read more about it here.)

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