The Restaurant Serves Up Gourmet TV

Business was booming yesterday at Rocco's (search) in Manhattan - the day after celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito's (search) new downtown eatery starred in NBC's latest reality show, The Restaurant.

The buzz surrounding The Restaurant had been building for weeks, with gossip columnists hyping Sunday night's premiere - and DiSpirito, one of People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive" - appearing constantly on TV and radio to talk up the show created by Survivor mastermind Mark Burnett (search).

It paid off.

Workers arriving at Rocco's yesterday found 200 messages seeking reservations on the restaurant's answering machine, and there are now eight phone lines humming constantly - as opposed to the two that rang only sporadically just last week.

"The business in the restaurant has been through the roof," said John Charlesworth, (search) the goateed, tough-talking kitchen manager featured in Sunday's premiere.

"We're pretty much booked solid," Charlesworth said.

Welcome to the instant celebrity of reality TV.

"My phone is ringing off the hook from people I haven't spoken to in years," said Charlesworth.

"People want to take pictures of me in front of the restaurant, and people were honking their horns at me as they drove past," he said excitedly.

"And I'm just a kitchen guy!"

He's not "just a kitchen guy" anymore. Not after Sunday's Restaurant premiere attracted 7.7 million viewers and plenty of young viewers, the demographic most coveted among advertisers.

Sunday's premiere went behind the scenes as DiSpirito and his crew (financier Jeffrey Chodorow (search), architects, waiters, managers, etc.) worked their butts off to revamp an abandoned space and open Rocco's in five weeks, a job that normally would have taken five times as long.

The show will take viewers behind the scenes and snoop on personal relationships between the restaurant staff and customers.

Charlesworth said the sudden fame didn't make his job any tougher.

"Not really - it's what I do, it's my routine," he said. "I just feel sort of disjointed from everything. I haven't had the chance to get my head around it yet."