ELYRIA — For the past 20 years, Elyria native Bruce Brown has made a name for himself as a “foodie” in the small North Caroline town of Marion, where he operates a small restaurant and mail-order business that specializes in cheesecake.
Brown, 52, now has another notch in his professional belt.
On Sunday night, he was among several chefs who appeared on the new Spike TV food competition show “Frankenfood.”
Brown and his wife, Barbara, watched the inaugural episode of “Frankenfood” Sunday night in Elyria with family members while the couple was in town for the 35th reunion of his Elyria High School class of 1979.
It was Brown’s second visit home in a week. He had made a quick 18-hour visit by plane the weekend before to celebrate the 90th birthday of his mother, who still lives in the family’s old neighborhood near St. Jude Church.
Anyone who missed Sunday night’s episode featuring Brown will get another chance to see the 30-minute show at 10:30 p.m. this Sunday.
Brown’s resume includes time working at Elyria’s Mountain Jack restaurant.
The youngest of six children, Brown spoke fondly of his days carrying The Chronicle-Telegram on a paper route handed down over 20-plus years from three older brothers, two of whom still live in the Elyria area.
His move to North Carolina in 1993 followed many trips from Elyria to visit his wife’s parents, who live near Asheville, N.C.
Before opening his own restaurant, Bruce’s Fabulous Foods, Brown worked for a time at a Marion restaurant owned by another couple.
“Their specialty was one cheesecake flavor — pumpkin — and it was really good,” Brown said.
He began tinkering with the recipe, which led to other flavors.
Once he opened his restaurant in 2001, Brown grew his cheesecake lineup to 52 flavors, and eventually to 135. Most are available via his mail-order business.
“Some have soft toppings,” Brown said. “We can’t vacuum-seal those.”
Brown’s appearance on “Frankenfood” came about from a combination of factors including his appearances as a “resident chef” of sorts on the local morning show of Asheville’s ABC affiliate, his friendship with TV casting director Brooklyn Bagwell and a piece of cheesecake.
Bagwell had eaten at his restaurant before moving to New York City, where she began working for an entertainment company casting for the series “Doomsday Preppers.”
During a visit to his restaurant, Brown served Bagwell a piece of his Halloween Hangover cheesecake as they rehashed old times.
Bagwell liked the dessert well enough to tell Brown she thought it would be perfect for the new Spike TV reality food competition program.
“She got me hooked up with the casting director and I sent him a video audition,” Brown said.
Brown wound up among 40 chefs from 350-plus who auditioned for the new show, whose resident celebrity judges John Capon and Tony Luke Jr. are joined by a rotating panel of guest judges to discover new and unusual dishes.
Brown made it to the final eight contestants.
“They ended up showing five of the eight finalists and chose two to earn a $10,000 cash prize, and get their concoction onto the menu of a New York City restaurant,” Brown said.
Unfortunately, Brown just missed the cut, placing third.
“Both judges told me I would have been next in line,” Brown said.