The Power of Hollywood in Savannah

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 back stage at a whole lot of concerts back in the day. 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 6 weeks or so at Rancho Alegre, Savannah’s Cuban food and entertainment hot spot on Martin Luther King Junior 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 their 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 that 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. Norman Reedus is a bona-fide star.

A couple of months ago season 2 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 to arrive at 2pm on a Monday. That Monday, right on time they were all gathered at the corner of MLK Junior Blvd and West Jones Streets downtown Savannah. It would be my guess, I didn’t ask, that Mr. Rodriguez didn’t have much of an idea what “Ride” was about, nor did he know who Norman 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 got 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. “Chapelle was going to do a show.” Rodriguez said “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 Mr. Reedus sitting on the sidewalk of Rancho Alegre talking on his cellphone. 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/Chapelle visit to Rancho Alegre. They called it “The Most Random Lunch Date Ever” Reedus and Chapelle enjoying Cuban food and a mojito. The TMZ segment ran just under 2 minutes. TMZ is a very popular TV show. You can watch that segment by clicking here. Boom.

Apparently enquiring minds completely agreed with TMZ because business at Rancho is now 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. Mr. Rodriguez did share how much of a 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 in business 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 foot steps of not so dead and enjoy some Cuban food while they were at it.  Season 2 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

 

Eat It and Like It launched in Savannah, Georgia with television personality Jesse Blanco as the host. His passion for food and travel has made Eat It and Like It a two-time EMMY nominated program about contemporary and traditional Southern food.