August 5, 2013 Updated: August 6, 2013 at 8:18 am
WOODLAND PARK - Kyle Stackhouse was stationed at his usual position behind the front counter at Napa Auto Parts in Woodland Park on Saturday morning when he looked out and saw a big tent pop up in the normally empty dirt parking lot across the street.
"I thought, 'What the hell is going on?'"
Customers started coming in to his family's store asking the same question.
Social media had the answer.
"People were posting on Facebook that Chef Gordon Ramsay was coming to Woodland Park," Stackhouse said. "Tons of tents started going up, and more and more people started coming, and there was action all weekend. It was just crazy."
The out-of-the-ordinary activity in this small mountain town west of Colorado Springs will continue throughout the week, as Ramsay, host of Fox television's "Kitchen Nightmares" tries to rejuvenate a struggling locally owned Italian restaurant, Mangia Mangia.
It's the talk of the town.
"Half of the people who come in the store are talking about it," Stackhouse said. "People are surprised we didn't hear about it weeks before."
But everybody knows now.
"It's amazing they would pick here. It's the biggest thing that's happened in our neighborhood," said Ashley Altop, who lives nearby and works at the local McDonald's restaurant, which she said has been more crowded than usual.
"We were real busy all weekend," she said. "Maybe that's why."
By Saturday, when the 40 crew members from Los Angeles and 20 local lighting, sound and production temps leave the film site, many will have patronized every restaurant and bar in town, said Brian Lotierzo, line producer for ITV Studios.
"We try to support the local businesses as much as possible," he said.
The largest hotel, Woodland Country Lodge, has a "No Vacancy" sign posted on the front door, largely due to the show's crew. The outdoor marquee also scrolls, "Welcome Kitchen Nightmares Film Crew."
"We saw that and thought it was really nice," Lotierzo said. "The town has been fantastic - inviting and welcoming. Although the snow on Pikes Peak and the hail here over the weekend were surprising."
On Monday, film crews had closed the restaurant and were busy setting up cables and antennas for sound and lighting systems, in preparation for the arrival of Ramsay and the start of show time.
"It takes a lot of people to do this," Lotierzo said, "and when Chef Gordon gets here, it's a lot of waiting for him to decide what he wants and then doing it - once the white jacket's on, the only answer he accepts is 'Yes, Chef,' even from the crew."
Kitchen Nightmares, in which Ramsay acerbically attempts to get to the root of the problems causing a restaurant to fail, is one of several reality television shows the company produces. Ramsay's other hit, Hell's Kitchen, an intense culinary academy for aspiring restaurateurs, is another.
After filming at two Denver-area restaurants last week - the first time the show has come to Colorado - Fox said it was finished taping for the first half of its sixth season of Kitchen Nightmares. But it abruptly made Mangia Mangia its final stop, the seventh restaurant in the nation to be featured out of hundreds that applied to be considered for the new season.
Lotierzo said he and two other employees from the show scouted out Mangia Mangia about a month ago.
Their conclusion: "We thought they could benefit from Chef Gordon's help," Lotierzo said.
While he wouldn't get specific, Lotierzo said the crew hadn't encountered anything "too crazy" so far.
"It's not the dirtiest restaurant we've been in, which is a good thing," he said. "But Chef Gordon will see what he sees."
Locals Julie Watson and Dan Alfrey opened Mangia Mangia in a former Arby's building in 2009, serving homemade spaghetti, veal marsala, fettuccine Alfredo, lasagna and other dishes and urging diners to take a cue from its name: Italian for "Eat Eat."
Locals have mixed reviews.
"It's not that bad. I think it's interesting that it's at a level where he needs to come in and fix it," said Logan Ruths, who was taking a lunch break from band camp at Woodland Park High School with a few friends.
"It kind of worries me about what goes on in the back of the restaurant," said John Ducey, another student.
Ryan Postusta said he's eaten there and thought the food was just "OK" - not great.
Logan described the food as "fine."
"It wasn't bad. I didn't see anything wrong with it," he said.
He signed up to be one of the diners that gets to participate in the show and is waiting to hear if he was selected.
"I think it'd be cool to see if they've improved since I've been there last," Logan said.
Ryan said it'll be fun to see locals from the small town he's grown up in on national television.
"It's exciting," he said.
About 60 diners for each day of filming - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - are needed to be guinea pigs, eating meals before and after the makeover. To be considered for a reservation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery said the city has been assisting the workers with locating production trailers, understanding sign regulations and other matters.
What it will mean for the city of 7,200 residents and tourists who pass through year-round remains to be seen.
"We won't know until we see what kind of response it brings for the restaurant," he said. "People here know the owners, believe in them and want to support them. We hope it's beneficial to the restaurant. I'm pleased they have the opportunity to make their business better."
An air date for the episode has not yet been released.