In the back corner of an unremarkable Scottsdale strip mall there's a quaint and extremely tidy restaurant owned by a married couple.
The wife, a blonde who considers herself an Arizona native, runs the back of the house. The husband, an immigrant who came to this country 14 years ago, oversees the front of house operations.
They've been serving simple food and desserts from their restaurant for the last eight years. The wife, who has experience in interior design, decorated the black and white restaurant. She says she even put the Venetian plaster on the walls herself.
If you didn't know their names were Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, this couple would be easy to like at best and unexceptional at worst. Unfortunately, chances are slim that you don't already know who they are.
Eighteen months ago the Bouzaglos were catapulted -- okay, maybe they did it to themselves, but either way, they went from being more or less your run of the mill restaurant owners to being some of reality television's biggest stars. And it basically happened overnight.
If you're not aware, Amy (Amanda) and Samy (Solomon) Bouzaglo are the infamous couple that appeared on the Season 6 premier of Fox's Kitchen Nightmares starring chef Gordon Ramsay. During the episode the couple can be seen cursing at customers and generally behaving badly. Ramsay eventually walks out on the couple and their hopeless case, deeming the restaurant and its owners a lost cause. There are allegations of stolen tips, sexual harassment, and more.
It would have been a bad enough situation if the story ended there. But, as we know, it didn't.
After the show aired, viewers and the Internet in general went berserk. So did the couple, or at least that's what it looked like based on the slew of angry, hateful, curse-word-ridden postings from the restaurant's social media accounts.
The Bouzaglos then claimed their computer had been hacked (they still maintain that an IP address from California accessed the Amy's Baking Company Facebook) and regardless, the antics surrounding the couple and the restaurant continued for months. The restaurant closed for a short while before re-opening, all the while Amy and Samy continued to engage with people on the Internet who criticized the couple for what had happened on the show.
These days things have quieted down a lot for Amy and Samy, though in the two hours I spent with the couple earlier this month they received three phone calls from people asking to speak to Amy about the show.
"We're used to it," Amy says with amusement as she hangs up on the third caller of the morning. "This is nothing."
In the wake of the show, allegations spread on social media that Bouzaglo didn't actually bake any of the desserts served at the restaurant; Facebook users accused the couple of buying and re-selling desserts from Costco. In order to combat those rumors, Bouzaglo's started to post step-by-step video tutorials on the Amy's Baking Company Instragram.
I wandered the kitchen freely during my visit and though I didn't see Amy put anything into the oven, there were racks of pastries in different stages of completion in the kitchen and walk-in. The morning was quiet; around noon, a pair of customers came in to order lunch at which time Samy sprang into action and Amy headed to the kitchen to work.
For a long time after things spiraled out of control at the restaurant, Amy Bouzaglo says she ran the entire kitchen herself. Now she's up to one kitchen employee, a young woman who started as a server and is now learning the ropes as Amy's right-hand.
Aside from being an Internet star, Bouzaglo is a self-taught baker and chef. She was born in Alaska and grew up in the Valley. Her family used to live in Gold Canyon, the unincorporated city in Pinal County located east of Apache Junction.
The restaurant owner says her interest in the culinary arts began when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a result of her mother's sickness cooking became one of Amy's household duties. She soon discovered that cooking could double as a way for her to connect with her mom.
"It was in that moment I realized you can really do a lot for people through food," Bouzaglo says.
But it was not long after her mother passed away that Bouzaglo, then Amanda Bossingham, made a mistake with life-changing consequences.
According to court documents, in 2001 Bouzaglo applied for a $15,000 line of credit using a Social Security number that was not her own. She pleaded guilty to the class D felony and was sentenced to 14 months in prison in 2004. She filed and lost on appeal.
By the time she was supposed to self-surrender in the summer of 2008 the Bouzaglos had already been married for five years. Court documents say Bouzaglo had "made drastic changes in her life" since committing the crime. She and Samy had opened Amy's Baking Company about two years prior but had to close the restaurant while Amy served her time.
"It sucked," Bouzaglo says. "It was horrible, but I did it."
Unfortunately by the time Amy's sentence was complete, her husband had landed himself in a legal battle of his own. Samy, who says he came to the United States legally more than a decade ago, is currently involved in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement case that threatens to revoke his residency status. The couple says Samy admitted to past crime convictions on his immigration forms and that these answers are now jeopardizing his legal status.
Both Amy's criminal past and Samy's immigration status were brought to light during the months after the show, serving as fuel for the couples many "haters," as they like to call them. Though Amy has shut down the restaurant's Facebook page since the drama began, she is still active on Twitter under the name @bouzgaloabc. She receives tweets every day from those attacking the couple for the Kitchen Nightmares show.
Still, neither Amy nor Samy is ready to back down. They say they're focusing on turning the experience into something good.
"Of course, there is no bad publicity," Samy says. "It's up to us to turn it the negative into positive. Most importantly for me, he [Gordon Ramsay] introduced us, my wife, to the world."
To that end, Amy plans to self-publish a cookbook later this year. The book, which she says has a slogan "Make Cake, Not War" will blend her baking recipes with stories of motivation for other people who have experienced bullying.
"I always wanted to write a cook book and a baking book, but I really became inspired after having the world thinking that I don't make my desserts," she says.
And though she has no experience writing a book of any kind, Bouzaglo says she's not afraid of putting her work out there.
"I sat down when I started writing it and I said to myself, I've already been called crazy, I already know that people think I'm insane, they hate me, they do this, they call me all these names - what's the worst that can happen?" she says.
The couple also says they're going to keep on fighting the people who continue to go after them. Amy and Samy say they're on a mission to put give these people a taste of their own medicine using social media and the #bulliesonblast.
"It's called Bullies on Blast and this is our next mission, what we're doing after the book," Amy says. "We're hunting them and we have an army of support from all over the world."
True, there's still much to be skeptical of when it comes to the couple and just how much of their story is true and to what degree may never be clear. But one thing is clear to me after sitting down with the restaurant owners: They're not sorry for what they've said and done.
"Ninety-nine percent of the things people think we said, we didn't say," Amy says. "Because the things I've said, I own what I say. If I'm going to say something I own it. Everything."
Your favorite dish on the menu right now: Everything!
I love being able to prepare freshly made Soups served with my homemade Challah. #ChallaBackGirl! I prepare two soups daily, one is dedicated to being 100% vegetarian.
So far the customers seem to really enjoy the Asian Kale Slaw Salad with crunchy peanuts, cilantro, sugar snap peas, shredded cabbage, shredded baby carrots, fresh mint, sesame seeds, sweet peppers and my secret sweet and spicy peanut sauce. It is my personal favorite. I love adding chicken and avocado. I sautee the chicken freshly per order, the chicken breasts are tender, juicy, crispy little nuggets that I caramelize with vanilla bean sugar and then dust it with toasted sesame seeds before adding to the salad. Oh my! So good!! I also love our signature chicken salads and paninis.
Your favorite ingredient to cook with: Vanilla bean sugar and a good olive oil
Something you always keep in your fridge at home: Freezer: Croisssants for breakfast and homemade crème brule ice cream. Fridge: Our freshly prepared daily meal plans, thick honey yogurt with candied cranberries, bottled Coke (for Samy), dessert (for Samy), bottled water, butter, kitty cat oils, and vitamins
Beer, wine, or cocktail: Samy loves Beer, wine and cocktails. I appreciate the flavor of liquors and good wine but I personally do not drink.
What do you listen to while you're cooking or baking? Gangsta Rap...Eminem, Pink Floyd, Led Zeplin, Katy Perry, 80 Monster Rock Love Songs, Fleetwood Mac, Pink, deadmau5. I love listening to music it helps to elevate my mood and motivate me.
Your earliest food-related memory: My mother making vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for my birthday. I don't know how old I was but I was tiny, maybe two or three years old. I still remember the delicious taste of that creamy tangy cream cheese frosting.
What was the first thing you learned to cook: Fresh Alaskan King salmon, Alaskan King Crab legs, and fried Halibut with homemade tartar sauce.
I was so fortunate to have had the chance to live in Alaska during the early parts of my childhood. My grandfather loved to go fishing and crabbing and I always got to go along with him. He taught me how catch a fish, clean a fish, and then perfectly prepare it. He also helped to guide me to have a extraordinary work ethic. And I will forever be grateful to him and my mother for teaching me that very valuable gift.
The public perception of me is not fully accurate. I consider myself a modern day Emma Heart from A Woman of Substance. I work until I collapse. And then I get right back up and continue to work. I am a perfectionist no doubt. I am fully dedicated to my work 100%...
Your favorite thing to eat as a kid: I am sure that the majority of the people out there will think it was paste. Lol!
But it was actually my mother's lasagna with a huge fresh salad filled with heirloom tomatoes that we grew in our garden. And our buttery garlic bread sticks.
Your favorite thing to eat now: Freshly baked butter croissants smothered with Nutella and sea salt. Accompanied with a huge ice cold glass of almond milk.
Your favorite food smell: Maple doughnuts with praline pecans
It's your day off. What are you doing? Working
One chef you admire and why: Jamie Oliver. I love how he makes everything look so easy and approachable. He makes cooking fun and explains things very simply. I think he and his family are darling and I love how he is concerned with helping to educate people about food and where it really comes from.
What's your culinary guilty pleasure: Homemade fettuccini noodles, crispy thick cut cherry wood smoked bacon, green onions, avocado that has been tossed in olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper, parmesan cheese with egg carbonara...beyond delicious!
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The best thing about owning a restaurant is... The people
The worst thing about owning a restaurant is...The people
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