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Eat It and Like It: Savannah’s Rancho Alegre sees business bump after visit from actor Norman Reedus

  • Actor Norman Reedus, center, poses with staff at Rancho Alegre during filming for "Ride with Norman Reedus." (Photo courtesy Juan Rodriguez)
  • Comedian Dave Chappelle, front, actor Norman Reedus, right, and crew filmed parts of season two of "Ride with Norman Reedus" at Savannah restaurant Rancho Alegre. (Photo courtesy Juan Rodriguez)
  • A newspaper in London contacted Rancho Alegre to use this photo of actor Norman Reedus outside the restaurant during filming for "Ride with Norman Reedus." (Photo courtesy Juan Rodriguez)
 

Eat It and Like It: Savannah’s Rancho Alegre sees business bump after visit from actor Norman Reedus

18 Apr 2017

Is it me, or has society become increasingly obsessed with everything in Hollywood these days?

I see kids sometimes losing their minds over a picture “celebrity A” posted to social media. “Did you see the photo Taylor Swift posted this week to IG?” one is likely to overhear. I’m standing there wondering who cares about this, but then I remember how badly we tried (and succeeded, by the way) to get backstage at a whole lot of concerts back in the day.

The 24-hour news cycles are at least partially to blame for this perceived obsession, I recognize that. At the end of the day, though, people just love to walk in the footsteps of the rich and famous. There is no greater example of that in this town than what’s been going on the last six weeks or so at Rancho Alegre, Savannah’s Cuban food and entertainment hotspot on MLK Jr. Blvd.

There’s a relatively new television show out there called “Ride with Norman Reedus,” a show about Reedus on a motorcycle with a celebrity guest. Rides of note for the first season included a journey through the Florida Keys with Peter Fonda. Season one aired last year on AMC and it did well enough to be renewed for another season.

A little background work on Reedus will show you he is quite an accomplished actor. In 2010, he began his role as Daryl Dixon on “The Walking Dead,” quite possibly one of the most popular TV series of the last half-decade. Reedus is a bona-fide star.

A couple of months ago, season two of “Ride” entered production, at which point the phone rang here in Savannah .Rancho Alegre owner Juan Rodriguez tells me they called, asked for permission to shoot in his restaurant and promised toarrive at 2 p.m. on a Monday. That Monday, right on time, they were all gathered at the corner of MLK and West Jones streets in downtown Savannah. It would be my guess (I didn’t ask) that Rodriguez didn’t have much of an idea what “Ride” was about, nor did he know who Reedus was. He did, however, know the guest for this episode. That was comedian Dave Chappelle.

“They came in, sat down and ate and drank while the cameras were filming,” Rodriguez tells me. “They were having a great time.”

Once the interiors were shot, they went outside to get some shots on their bikes on the street. Rodriguez snapped a few photos for social media and that was that. Production was moving on to The Wormhole, a popular dive in Savannah’s Starland District.

“Chappelle was going to do a show,” Rodriguez says. “They asked me to join them. So we rode over there on their tour bus.”

They arrived at The Wormhole with complete VIP treatment, he says. And that sentence will likely never be repeated again. Waivers needed to be signed, cell phones confiscated during production.

When they wrapped there, Rodriguez returned to Rancho for the evening, not really expecting to see the crew again. Well what do you know, once they were done, they all came back for dinner. This time, no cameras. I wish I could say that is the end of the story, but for Rancho Alegre, that was kind of the beginning.

“The next day, we got a phone call from a newspaper in London asking for permission to use a photo of Reedus that we had posted to Facebook,” Rodriguez says. The photo shows Reedus sitting on the sidewalk of Rancho Alegre talking on his cell phone. Apparently that was a big deal because it went viral. And not just around here. Globally. “They posted the photo and it got 7,500 likes in under 24 hours,” he says.

The next phone call came from TV show “TMZ,” America’s favorite TV gossip rag. Those guys do a great job of turning a celebrity walk through an airport into a story. They have 20 seconds of video of Matt Lauer standing on a street corner waiting to cross? They’ll turn that into 4 minutes of TV content.

“TMZ” wanted to know about the Reedus/Chappelle visit to Rancho Alegre. They called it “The Most Random Lunch DateEver.” Reedus and Chappelle enjoying Cuban food and a mojito. The segment ran just under 2 minutes. “TMZ” is a very popular TV show. Boom.

Apparently, inquiring minds completely agreed with “TMZ,” because business at Rancho is booming. No other way to describe it. It’s worth stating for the record that Rancho was already one of the more popular spots in town, especially for live music. The Cuban food is great and the cocktails equally as such. But the post-Reedus bump is nothing Rodriguez expected really.

“It’s been crazy around here ever since,” he says. Maybe the busiest they’ve ever been. Rodriguez did share how much ofa bump in business he has seen since that day, but I didn’t ask for permission to share that publicly. I will say the spike was jaw-dropping. It helps when you run a great business and serve good food.

It also helped that this all happened just before spring break. It stands to reason that Reedus fans who were already planning a trip to Savannah made a point to stop at Rancho Alegre to walk in the footsteps of the not-so-dead and enjoy some Cuban food while they were at it.

Season two of “Ride with Norman Reedus” continues production and will likely air later this year on AMC, at which point Rancho Alegre might see this all over again — making Savannah’s Cuban spot an international destination.

See you on TV,

Jesse

RANCHO ALEGRE

Address: 402 MLK Jr. Blvd.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Info: ranchoalegrecuban.com, 912-292-1656

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