Maryland National Guard reacts to Gordon Ramsay rescuing Ellicott City restaurants

A car drives on the main street of the former mill town Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in Ellicott City, Md. A few months after floodwaters devastated the town’s main street for the second time in two years, authorities are moving to demolish roughly 5 percent of Ellicott City’s historic district. (AP Photo/David McFadden)
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with National Guard about Gordon Ramsay in Ellicott City

In 2016 and 2018, dual floods devastated the historic streets of Ellicott City, Maryland.

This week, the city was highlighted in celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s “24 Hours to Hell and Back,” which aired Tuesday on FOX and is now available to stream on demand.

“It was so interesting and humbling for me to actually witness the dedication and the genuine desire from Gordon Ramsay himself and the crews to come in and help a city,” said Maj. Kurt Rauschenberg, director of public affairs for the Maryland National Guard.

“It was really perfect timing for them to pick Ellicott City, because years later they needed a boost, they needed something to pick them up and show the public, ‘We are resilient.'”

Typically, Ramsay chooses one restaurant to revitalize, but this time he revitalizes an entire town by transforming three establishments: Little Market Cafe, Jaxon Edwin and Phoenix Emporium, merging it with its sister location Ellicott Mills Brewing Company.

“Gordon himself said, ‘Normally I’m able to do this in 24 hours, but this time it’s going to take a little bit more time,'” Rauschenberg said. “One thing that was interesting during the filming is you see that it was raining the majority of the time, which is kind of ironic.”

Along the way, we meet the emotional restaurant owners, including Jeni Porter of Little Market Cafe, Mark Hemmis of Phoenix Emporium and Jeff Braswell of Jaxon Edwin.

“The way that they showed the transformations in the show was pretty on point,” Rauschenberg said. “It was absolutely heartwarming to see the owners of these businesses who have gone through so much … to overcome those experiences.”

The show also features high-profile cameos by Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., the Maryland Terrapins football team, Ravens officials at M&T Bank Stadium and Gov. Larry Hogan.

“You probably saw the scene where we have Black Hawk helicopters that are flying around Ellicott City,” Rauschenberg said. “We were transporting Gordon Ramsay and the governor so that the governor could provide an overview of where the most serious damaged areas were during those disasters. So, that was important for us to provide that aerial view.”

The National Guard then rides in triumphantly as Ramsay brings in the proverbial cavalry.

“We’re seen driving in the opening scene down the main streets with the other support that came from various other companies that were providing their services,” Rauschenberg said. “It was important for us to show our presence and help really any way we could.”

Such entertainment requests are an exciting change of pace for the National Guard.

“The Department of Defense supports entertainment requests pretty often,” Rauschenberg said. “You’ve probably seen movies where military members are shown in a situation where there’s a monster running through a city. … I believe ‘Godzilla’ was one of them, I believe ‘Man of Steel’ was one of them, and I think ‘Pitch Perfect 3′ believe it or not.”

In the case of “24 Hours to Hell & Back,” FOX reached out to the Maryland National Guard because of its members’ hands-on experience battling the floods back in 2016 and 2018.

“We supported in 2016 with some aviation capabilities from our 29th combat Aviation Brigade here in the Maryland Army National Guard,” Rauschenberg said. “We also lost one of our own in 2018, Staff Sgt. Eddison Hermond. He died while trying to save a business owner there in Ellicott City. We still carry a very heavy heart from losing one of our own.”

Overall, the Maryland National Guard consists of nearly 6,000 members of the community.

“In the long run, we are a community based organization,” Rauschenberg said. “We are Marylanders ourselves and we wanted to be a part of it very much. … We’re virtually in every zip code on any given day in one way or another here in Maryland. A lot of us are born and raised here in Maryland, we’re true Marylanders and we love Ellicott City.”

That’s true for Rauschenberg, who grew up in Westminster and now lives in New Market.

“I’ve spent some time in Ellicott City myself and I’ve always enjoyed the nightlife, the community, the culture,” Rauschenberg said. “If you have company that comes to Maryland and they ask, ‘Where should I go? Where should I visit?,’ the first thing that pops in my head is you need to go to downtown historic Ellicott City because it’s pretty awesome.”

In normal times, such TV exposure would cause tourists to flock to Ellicott City to try out Ramsay’s revived restaurants, but so far that hasn’t been possible due to the coronavirus. Fittingly, the show opens and closes with a message of hope addressing COVID-19.

“They are yet again going through a situation where they have to be resilient and adapt,” Rauschenberg said. “But I think, much like the flooding disasters, I think we will come together and do what’s right to make the communities whole again. …  I do truly hope that once we’re able to get back to some state of normalcy that this community will prosper.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Kurt Rauschenberg (Full Interview)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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