Whitewater restaurant team win Food Network show challenge

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Gina Duwe
Friday, July 26, 2013

WHITEWATER--Chef Tyler Sailsbery had never left his Whitewater restaurant for more than an overnight when he and a coworker were chosen for the Food Network's “Food Court Wars” show.

The owner of The Black Sheep spent more time preparing for how to suddenly be gone from his restaurant for five days of filming last spring than he did preparing to be on a reality TV show food challenge.

“I didn't think about the show until the day they showed up,” he said. “Before that, I was thinking, 'How do I make sure The Black Sheep is taken care of?'”

Sailsbery and Black Sheep waitress Sarah Smith were quickly thrust into five long days of filming in Wausau in a challenge that pitted them against another pair to create the more appealing food court restaurant.

Prize for the winning team: Free rent for a year for a restaurant in the Wausau Center Mall.

It's been an exciting week for the Whitewater team since the show aired Sunday night. Not only was news of their win unveiled Sunday, but Monday they opened Casual Joe's in the Wausau mall. The menu includes brats, bacon mac and cheese and brandy old fashioned ice cream.

“It's been exciting, and we're loving it,” Sailsbery said.

Sailsbery will continue owning and running his Whitewater restaurant, while he co-owns Casual Joe's with Smith, who moved to Wausau and is managing the restaurant.

The show features two teams of aspiring food entrepreneurs facing off to win a rent-free mall restaurant in a different U.S. city each week. The teams must test their concept at a community event, market their brand and run their restaurant for a day feeding shoppers. The team who makes the most profit wins.

The Whitewater team offered Wisconsin-style comfort food, including cheese curds, and southern food, while their opponents served wraps and salads at The Wrap Trap. Hungry Wausau shoppers picked the comfort food. 

Sailsbery heard about the show through an area tourism director and started a five-step application process.

“The whole time you're thinking, 'This is never going to happen, this is just crazy, I don't know why I'm wasting my time,'” he said.

The experience filming a reality show was interesting, he said. Sailsbery and Smith were microphoned from morning to night over five days of 10-12 hours of shooting. They also were followed everywhere by a guy listened to all their conversations, he said.

“He can't talk back, but we talked to him,” he said. “He literally had to sit there and listen to our thoughts the entire day.”

Team Casual Joe's had no idea what the episode would look like after cutting 60 to 70 hours of footage down to an hour show.

“I was happy,” he said. “It was awkward, just seeing yourself on TV and not knowing what's next, even though you were there.”

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