LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Small businesses in Southern Nevada are getting a helping hand from a hospitality industry expert on television.
Typically on Paramount Network's "Bar Rescue," executive producer and host Jon Taffer roams the country, turning struggling bars and pubs into profitable establishments. But in his eighth season, the pandemic season, the Las Vegas local is exclusively rescuing bars in his hometown, for what he calls the "most emotional season yet."
Paradise Cantina, located across the street from Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, is just one of the locally-owned bars Taffer "rescued" during production this year, with the goal of keeping their doors open through arguably the hardest year the industry has ever faced.
When Paradise Cantina owner Ronnie Pellegrino saw the remodeled bar, after a week of hardcore training and rehabilitation, he said his hope was restored. But getting to that point came at a heavy cost for him.
"It definitely got desperate. I mean, I moved out my condo. I stayed in a hotel," said Pellegrino.
“I want you to understand: He lost his house. He's borrowing money to survive,” said Taffer to the bar’s staff in the season premiere episode starring Pellegrino.
“It was brutal. It was absolutely brutal. There is no way of sugarcoating it whatsoever,” said Pellegrino.
The longtime restauranteur calls himself proud.
"I've always been one of the people that people come to, to ask for help,” said Pellegrino.
For this reason, he said he did all he could to resist resorting to a TV show for help.
“A year ago? 'Bar Rescue?' Come on. You couldn't pay me!” said Pellegrino. “To ask a complete stranger for help, in the most public way you possibly can, was like swallowing razor blades, to be very honest."
Until eventually, amid the COVID-19 restrictions, Pellegrino had to face his reality straight, no chaser. He said he became more than $750,000 in debt, and his life savings depleted.
“Yeah, we were desperate, I was desperate,” said Pellegrino.
He said Small Business Administration Loans, like the Paycheck Protection Program, did not help very much.
"A couple of months of being closed. That is what it covered,” said Pellegrino.
That’s when he made the unconventional choice to call up Taffer's "Bar Rescue."
"It would have been pretty pigheaded of me not to at least listen,” said Pellegrino. And luckily for him, Paramount decided to produce a whole season in Las Vegas.
“The fact that he did the entire season here, I mean, that's pretty stand-up,” said Pellegrino.
It all happened during a time when many other networks took a hiatus.
FOX5 spoke with Taffer to learn about the production process. He said every day, each cast and crew member had to take a COVID-19 test.
"It's been a real challenge to produce the show,” said Taffer. “But this year, it's more important that we produce the show."
The Las Vegas resident said for him, this season was personal.
"Very difficult and emotional to be honest with you,” said Taffer. “We had one family that had lost their house three days before we got there, and they had four young boys sleeping on the floor upstairs above the restaurant. I mean those are the kind of things we're dealing with this season.”
Still, in line with his typical tough-love approach, Taffer took no excuses and instead offered solutions.
Pellegrino's episode aired in "Bar Rescue’s" season premiere on Sunday.
“There is something that should greatly concern you about the way your bartending staff is functioning back there,” said Taffer to Pellegrino during Sunday’s episode.
During production, Taffer offered training to staff, remodeled the cantina to make it more eye-popping, as well as adding COVID-safe designs with things like air-scrubbing equipment.
“He’s a pretty charming guy, believe it or not,” said Pellegrino.
But it turns out the nightlife expert learned something, too, on just how exemplary Las Vegas' hospitality workers really are.
“Las Vegas, I have found, and this is not a word I would have used before I lived here, it's a city of respect. We respect those who visit us. We respect those who serve those who visit us, and we really respect each other. And you'll see a lot of that unbelievable Las Vegas respect and character in this season,” said Taffer.
Since Paradise Cantina's rescue, which was done a couple months ago, Pellegrino can proudly say his days of despair are likely behind him. Sales, he said, are up.
"I think this is the first month that we did what we did pre-pandemic,” Pellegrino.
Taffer said bars and eateries like the Paradise Cantina are in for a big comeback.
"I think restaurants are gonna come alive, and I think it's gonna be a wonderful summer,” said Taffer.
Pellegrino certainly hopes that’s the case. He has more hope than ever.
“Look, I know that we're not curing cancer or anything, but I'll tell you what, one thing people are definitely gonna need after this is a drink,” said Pellegrino.
And for his industry colleagues still struggling, Pellegrino offers this: “Just don't give up. You can't give up no matter what. This is what we're good at. We're gonna eventually be allowed to do it to our fullest capacity pretty soon."
Taffer said the show will also celebrate its 200th episode this season, and that being able to film that in his hometown “meant the world” to him.
The small business is located at 4480 Paradise Road.