Violet Carlson, above, was one of the applicants who attended the job fair.


It was the oddest of job fairs: One where the company doing the hiring could not be named.

That's because the employer will be the winner of the TV reality show "America's Next Great Restaurant,"  and won't be announced until May 1 on the final NBC show  -- and not a day before, we're told.

Ash King, right, is the general manager of the Restaurant-That-Cannot-Be-Named. He insists

he doesn't know who the winner is.  In fact, he said, the producers of the show filmed three possible endings, which means that the contenders still don't know who has won. He's a former manager from Chipotle in Pueblo, Colo., and he gets his marching orders from his boss, who calls and says only, "This is the next step." (Shades of "Charlie's Angels.") Ash has been preparing for the new restaurant since mid-January and that has included visiting local culinary schools to let them know about opportunities with the new company. Which cannot be named.


Indeed, that ambiguity about the restaurant concept made two other employees nervous initially. They are Joshua Furman and Tim Bright, both cooks in the local restaurant scene, who are now two of the training managers at the Restaurant-That-Cannot-Be-Named. "I was worried about being duped," said Joshua. "It was initially a little off putting." Tim was concerned, too. "I had no clue what was going to happen. I thought it might be a scam. But once on the other side of the table, it all changed."

Clearly, the management approach will follow Steve Ells' successful Chipotle style of fast-casual dining. That means all food cooked from scratch. Which is why the job application for the Restaurant-That-Cannot-Be-Named notes its need for people with "knife skills."


And people with "baking skills." Hmm. Does this mean that the winner has to be someone who serves bread? (Let's see who we can rule out with that info.) Ash sidesteps the question. "We're just looking for people who know how to cook."


The new staff will be training immediately in a local test kitchen, since the actual restaurant location has to be kept top secret.

Ash won't say where the restaurant will be. "There are rumors about three or four different locations," he said, insisting he doesn't know where the actual spot is. But the job fair was at the Homewood Suites, across the street from the Mall of America. And so were the hungry crowds.

 The management crew is pumped with Chipotle-culture-talk. "Fast casual is where society is moving to," Ash said. "Not fast food, but food served fast with a higher quality. The quality and level of food served will meet the demands of today."

Ash noted that Steve Ells -- "I'm the founder of Chipotle," as Ells tells viewers each week -- has broken new ground in the routine of fast food, with connections to local farming and fresh food. "We'll be educating people about making good choices," he said. Steve Ells would be proud.

As for Ash's thoughts on who will win? He likes all four of the remaining contenders. "All have great concepts. At the beginning of the show, you could tell some concepts wouldn't work. The grilled cheese idea was good, but was he the right person for it? Same with Grill 'Billies. If you had an excellent BBQ place, it might work, but apparently the judges didn't think they [Greg and Krystal] were the right people."


As of noon Wednesday, Ash had chosen about a third of his staff,
and the management positions were full. Today's job fair was the first that mentioned its connection to the TV reality show. Earlier job fairs had not connected the dots. Ash noted that some applicants knew of the show, while others filling out the forms were there only because of the postings they had seen on Craig's List and CareerBuilder. "What show?" asked one of the applicants.

Eleven days and counting ... 

Tavon Porter, left, interviewed at the job fair with Ash King, general manager (in the background), and Charles Johnson, training manager.