Mama Rita’s Kitchen Nightmares Update – Still Open in 2024?

Is Mama Rita's still open?

Current Status: >> CLOSED <<
(keep reading to learn what happened)

Season: 3 | View All Season 3 Episodes
Original Episode Air Date: March 19, 2010
Mama Rita's Address: 360 Via Las Brisas Ste 110 Newbury Park, CA 91320
Mama Rita's Kitchen Nightmares Update

Episode Recap

Mama Rita’s was a Mexican restaurant in Newbury Park, California featured on Season 3 of Kitchen Nightmares.

Though the Mama Rita’s Kitchen Nightmares episode aired in March 2010, the actual filming and visit from Gordon Ramsay took place almost a year earlier in May 2009.

It was Kitchen Nightmares Season 3 Episode 8.

In this episode of Kitchen Nightmares, Chef Gordon Ramsay takes us to Mama Rita’s, in Newbury Park, California.

When we land in Newbury Park, we quickly meet the owner, Laura Papenfus.

Laura Papenfus Mama Rita's owner

Laura’s business started off as a successful catering business.

Due to customers encouraging her to open a restaurant, Laura decided to do so and give it a shot.

However, now that she has the restaurant she is serving less and less customers day by day.

The first week after the restaurant opened it was very busy.

However, after about three weeks the customers started to dwindle and the restaurant is now struggling to stay open.

Currently, Laura has accumulated an incredible $2.2 million in debt and is at risk of losing her house if the restaurant doesn’t improve.

These issues and debt are a big part of why the Kitchen Nightmares Mama Rita’s restaurant episode exists.

Side note – Mama Rita’s has the most debt burden of any Kitchen Nightmares restaurant that we’ve written about, so the odds are definitely stacked against Laura and her restaurant.

When Gordon Ramsay arrives, he says that the restaurant looks stunning.

However, he also notes that Laura must have spent a lot of money on the place, which explains the high debt load.

Next, Gordon Ramsay orders off the menu to see how the food is at Mama Ritas.

Brad advises Gordon Ramsay at Mama Rita's Mexican Cantina

To help him with this, he’s served by Brad, the head waiter at Mama Rita’s.

However, Brad actually tells Gordon to avoid some of the dishes, which isn’t a great start.

Gordon Ramsay orders a spread of food, including the tamales, chimichanga, and a burrito.

When the tamales arrive Gordon compares them to soaking wet newspaper, with a very dry filling.

The chimichanga arrives next and Gordon can tell the chimichanga had been microwaved and then fried.

This leaves the chicken very dry to the taste.

Gordon Ramsay eating at Mama Rita's

It doesn’t seem to be getting any better…

Last to arrive is the steak burrito and he compares it to wet cardboard. 

Wet newspaper and wet cardboard in one meal?

Gordon asks Brad to taste the steak.

Brad agrees that it’s gross and ends up spitting it out as soon as he’s back in the kitchen.

That’s not a great start!

Gordon Ramsay then gives his feedback to the kitchen staff, communicating that the good was disgusting.

Gordon Ramsay offers feedback

To see what a real service is like, Gordon Ramsay decides to observe the kitchen during a dinner rush.

He notices the food goes out quickly to the customers but the customers are never happy with the food they receive.

The customers complain about the dryness of the restaurant’s food and immediately send it back to the kitchen.

Gordon then decides to look in the freezer and pulls out a lot of frozen food.

He then empties the fridges and all the freezers which were filled with tray after tray of pre-cooked frozen food.

Gordon estimates that they have $12,000 worth of frozen food in the freezer, with a lot of the food dating back almost a year ago.

After interviewing some customers who had dined at the restaurant in the past, Gordon discovers that some of them experienced horrendous food poisoning.

Gordon invites chef Naris Mardirosian as a consultant to help in the kitchen.

Naris Mardirosian at Mama Rita's Kitchen Nightmares episode

The menu is then revamped to include dishes made from fresh ingredients.

The staff then taste the food from Gordon’s new menu and they love it.

The night of relaunch, Chef Naris is overseeing the kitchen.

However, the cooks are standing around doing nothing.

This means that the customers are facing a long wait for their food.

Dishes are also being sent back for burnt chips, missing beans and cheese, and the steaks are served undercooked.

Thankfully, Chef Naris is able to take over and handle things and the relaunch generally ends as a success.

When Gordon Ramsay leaves Mama Rita restaurant, things seem to be looking up.

Laura promises that she will make the needed staff and systems changes to turn the restaurant into a success.

Gordon Ramsay leaves Mama Rita's Newbury Park CA location

So was the Kitchen Nightmares Mama Rita’s restaurant episode a long-term success?

Keep reading my update to learn what happened next and if this California restaurant is still open in 2024 and beyond.

Mama Rita's Update - What Happened Next?

Now that we’ve recapped the Mama Rita’s Kitchen Nightmares episode, let’s talk about what happened to the restaurant after Gordon Ramsay and his crew left Newbury Park, CA.

At the end of the episode, we learned that Naris was supposed to stay on as the head chef for a few weeks to ensure a smooth transition and handle things instead of Perla, the original chef.

Laura was then supposed to have hired a new head chef and moved Perla out of that position.

However, Laura actually kept Perla on as the head chef after she was trained by Chef Naris.

What’s more, Laura also went back to using the restaurant’s old menu instead of the changes that Gordon made.

I mean – why not stick with the menu that got you $2.2 million in debt, right?

That’s sarcasm.

With that being said, the Mama Rita’s Yelp reviews were generally pretty solid after Gordon’s visit.

It ended with a 3.5 star rating, but a lot of the newer reviews were good.

I’ll share some real examples of reviews from after the Gordon Ramsay Mama Rita’s visit below.

But first, let’s talk about the answer to your most important question…

Is Mama Rita’s still open after Kitchen Nightmares?

Mama Rita’s restaurant closed in December 2010, around nine months after the Kitchen Nightmares Mama Rita’s episode aired on TV.

However, Laura continued to operate a catering business for a few years after closing the restaurant.

As I mentioned earlier, Laura actually got her start in catering before opening the Mama Rita’s restaurant, so she was going back to her roots.

As of 2023, the old Mama Rita’s California location in Newbury Park is occupied by a new restaurant called The Local Table, which seems to have good reviews on Yelp.

I usually embed the Google Maps street view widget to let you see what the restaurant looks like.

However, there’s no street view shot of the old Mama Rita’s Newbury Park location, so I can’t do that for this restaurant.

Why did Mama Rita’s close?

I don’t have a specific reason why Mama Rita’s closed but I have a pretty good idea that the $2.2 million debt burden played a big role.

Even with Gordon Ramsay working his magic, I just don’t think it’s possible for a restaurant to overcome that debt.

Gordon Ramsay could have literally turned Mama Ritas restaurant into one of the best restaurants in California and I still think it would have been tough for Mama Rita’s to stay open.

Mama Rita’s reviews after Kitchen Nightmares

At the time that Mama Rita’s closed, it had an overall 3.5 star Yelp rating on 49 reviews.

That includes reviews from both before and after the visit from Gordon Ramsay.

In general, I would say that the reviews from after the Mama Rita’s Gordon Ramsay visit were mostly positive.

This is why I think the restaurant’s closure had more to do with the debt than the quality itself.

Here’s a sampling of a few Mama Rita’s Mexican Cantina reviews from after Gordon’s visit…

5 star Yelp review from May 2010:

To help dispel some of the negative reviews as well….this place was REALLY good.

After seeing Kitchen Nightmares we decided to make the 1 1/2 drive to Newbury Park.

Man, this place is not nearby anything.

Literally a small shopping mall in the center of a giant housing area. Strange.

We showed up on Easter Sunday and the place was dead.

We thought might be bad sign, but it wasn’t.

Only bad thing was it meant more people were not going to enjoy this amazing Mexican food.

Okay, here’s my thought.

This is main stream Mexican food.

Not, mom’s homemade recipe from 50 years ago.

That type of Mexican food has its place, and I am a big fan of that.

BUT, I also love this kind. And this is some of the bet OF its kind I have ever had.

The Salsa is maybe some of the best ever.

The chips, as fresh as can be, and delicious.

We had a burrito, chimichangas, tortilla soup (on a few other reviewers’ recommendation…spot on), fresh guacamole, and a taco combo plate.

All were really really good.

… [review continues]

4 star Yelp review from April 2010:

My mom and I came up from San Diego yesterday to give Mama Rita’s a chance.

Like many others I’m sure, we saw this restaurant on Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” program.

We had a very nice time at Mama Rita’s and would come back if it wasn’t a 100+ mile commute.

Both of us ordered some fajitas.

Mine were steak, and my mom went with a mix of steak and shrimp.

The plates came out sizzling and smelling fantastic.

My steak was juicy with the right amount of tenderness and just tasted great.

My mom said her shrimp were delicious.

The complementary chips and salsa were also good, presenting quite a challenge to avoid filling up on them before getting to the main course!

The restaurant itself is clean.

Hospital clean.

…[cutting some of the content]

Best of luck Mama Rita’s.

If I find myself on the 101 again, I’ll probably be stopping by.

5 star Yelp review from August 2010:

Went here last night with a group, and was thrilled with the food and with the very strong Margarita.

Beware if you are a light weight like me.

There definitely is Tequila in that drink.

Had the chile relleno and it was awesome.

We also had guacomole that Laura, the owner, served our table, and it had a bite I appreciated.

I liked the salsa, and the fresh ingredients.

Laura told us that she has reworked her grandmother’s recipes and left out the lard, and made them healthier for her clientele.

I will definitely go back.

However, there were also a few negative reviews, such as this one star Yelp review from March 2010:

I don’t see what others see in this Mexican Restaurant.

Evey one of my family members – and there were 6 of us – had stomach issues are we left.

The food was just okay and nothing special.

The enchilada sauce tasted like it came out of a can.

The bean had a pork taste, perhaps they use lard?

The atmosphere was comfortable – what’s up with candles in a fire place?

The service was a bit slow here and there, but not bad.

I don’t know who their chef is, BUT FIRE HIM/HER!

What happened to Laura Papenfus from Mama Rita’s?

After Mama Rita’s closed, Laura started another restaurant called Mission Oaks Cafe in Camarillo, CA.

It had a so-so three star rating and eventually ended up closing in 2019.

As of 2023, Laura seems to be the director of catering at Thousand Oaks Inn.

She’s also doing standup comedy as well, according to her Instagram account.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any video of her standup, though, so I’m not sure what her style is.

You can keep in touch with her on her Twitter account and Instagram account, where she’s very active.

Laura’s Instagram username is mamarita4ever, so she definitely hasn’t forgotten about the restaurant.

I don’t normally link to people’s social media, but I’m making an exception here because she includes Kitchen Nightmares in her bio and seems to be open about it.

For example, here’s her Instagram bio:

Yes, I’m the one that did Gordon Ramsay’s KN in 2009.

I’m alive & kickin.

Doing stand up comedy for fun cuz we all need more laughter.

Laura Papenfus Instagram account

Her Twitter page also references the Kitchen Nightmares episode:

Mama Rita’s/ KN-Gordon2010.


comedian, for fun

Life is short so laugh,sing & dance

Everyday should be celebrated


Laura Papenfus Twitter account

I hope everything is going great with her!

What happened to Chef Perla from Kitchen Nightmares?

After Mama Rita’s closed, Perla seems to have gotten a new job as a chef at another restaurant named Armand’s Cellar.

However, her LinkedIn page hasn’t been updated, so I’m not sure if she’s still working there.

Final thoughts on Mama Rita’s Mexican restaurant

In the end, Mama Rita’s was not able to survive for very long after the visit from Gordon Ramsay, which isn’t surprising given the restaurant’s absolutely massive debt load.

Mama Rita’s closed as the end of 2010, which means it survived for about 1.5 years after the actual visit from Gordon Ramsay, but less than a year after the Kitchen Nightmares Mama Rita’s episode aired on TV.

As of 2023, the old Mama Rita’s Newbury Park California location is occupied by a new restaurant named The Local Table.

Laura Papenfus, the Mama Rita’s owner, opened another restaurant named Mission Oaks Cafe, but that also closed in 2019.

She’s now working as the director of catering at a hotel, which makes sense given her successful catering experience.

In addition to that, she’s also performing standup comedy.

If you want to see some other nearby California Kitchen Nightmares episodes, you might want to check out our updates for Sushi Ko in Thousand Oaks, The Greek at the Harbor in Ventura, and The Secret Garden in Moorpark.

And if you want to share your thoughts on the Mama Rita’s episode, you can use the comments section below.

Thanks for reading!

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Last updated: 2023-05-28 08:32

18 thoughts on “Mama Rita’s Kitchen Nightmares Update – Still Open in 2024?”

All comments are the sole opinion of the commenter and are not endorsed by RealityTVUpdates.

  1. Remember the episode well. First, don’t think the restaurant owner was a good business person. Case in point is the so called restaurant “manager” when asked by Ramsay what she thought was wrong with the restaurant, her reply was “not enough customers.” DUH! Then commented “I don’t know what he expected me to say.” Sounds like the owner hired a friend instead of an experienced restaurant manager.

    Perla shouldn’t have been an executive chef in a restaurant. Her training was as a catering chef. Another example of the owners lack of business acumen.

    The owner should stick to catering. She had success with that.

    • I don’t think she was a chef at all, even a “catering chef”. I mean you have to cook the stuff you freeze first, she couldn’t even do that on the cook off. Here’s chicken, and some ingredients. If you made those 1000 bags of food from scratch, you’d know the recipe like the back of your hand. She could have created one of those bagged things fresh on the spot.

  2. The owner ,manager and head chef have no idea how bad the food was or how to operate a restaurant. No wonder Mama Ritas failed. Laura is a likeable owner who you could root for.

  3. serious update; if you click on the link to Laura’s Instagram account, you can’t follow her because the account is private but there is a short introduction in which Laura states that she’s the person from the Kitchen Nightmares episode and that she’s also doing some stand up comedy. Maybe she’d like some of my deadpan humor material on this site 😊

  4. Laura was all over Perla in every scene. Talk about “hands on management.” She was not grabbing on to any of her other employees.

  5. So Laura kept Perla who two properly trained chefs said was not good enough and Laura went back to the old menu. These people are a waste of time and going back to the old ways which failed and got her into such a mess shows how disrespectful she is.

  6. So does this mean that caterers just use frozen and reheated food? Why is that ok? Also, Perla had been with her for six years, and this was the first time Laura realized that she didn’t know how to cook fresh food! What in bloody hell had she been doing for six years then? Doesn’t that mean that Laura is admitting that her catering business only uses warmed over frozen food? Who would want that? Also she went back to the old menu – so she didn’t deserve the help she was given. No wonder it failed. Stand up comedy now? Did she ever say anything halfway funny? What a mess.


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