Back in September, a few Lehigh Valley Phantoms employees received vague phone calls and emails asking to use the team’s logo on a television show.
It was unclear how the logo would be used or even what show was inquiring. Those employees came to Chris Porreca, the Phantoms’ executive vice president, asking what they should do, and he told them he’d take care of it.
After a few exchanges and multiple confidentiality agreements were signed, Porreca finally found out “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back” wanted to have Ramsay wear a Phantoms jersey in an episode about Allentown’s The Shanty on 19th, which was taped at the end of October and aired Wednesday night.
Porreca and the Phantoms were hesitant at first. He said there are many television shows and he didn’t want the logo used in the wrong spot. Once Porreca found out it was for Ramsay’s show — even though he couldn’t tell anyone else — he was completely on board.
“We definitely wanted them to use it,” Porreca said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s Fox television, it’s pretty expensive to advertise across the nation. It’s always good exposure for our brand to be out there in different lights and different ways.”
It turned out a Phantoms jersey wasn’t the only thing the show needed. After getting permission to use the logo, the show asked if Porreca could find three or four people who got along and would act natural to go undercover and eat with “the celebrity.” Even though Porreca knew who they’d be dining with, he said Ramsay’s name wasn’t used as the show tried to limit the number of people who knew any details.
Porreca volunteered himself and knew just the people who could help him: the first friends he made when relocating to the Lehigh Valley with the Phantoms, Mark Wright and Bill Smith. Before Porreca officially settled in the Lehigh Valley, he met Wright and Smith, who eventually helped him move into his house, playing pickup hockey in the area.
The three first encountered Ramsay outside of the Renaissance Allentown Hotel, where Ramsay stayed during his time in Allentown.
On the show, it appeared that Porreca drove Ramsay and his friends around downtown before heading over to The Shanty, but Porreca admitted that was not the case.
“I guess part of the fun story is you learn a lot about Hollywood and everything that goes on there,” Porreca said. He noted there were more cameras and boom microphones throughout the entire process than one could imagine. “We probably drove him 15 to 25 feet, he got out, and then met him [near] the restaurant.”
Porreca said Ramsay hopped back in their truck near The Shanty and they actually drove up to the restaurant with him, but they didn’t make the trek from downtown Allentown to the West End together. He estimates Ramsay was in the vehicle with them for about five to six minutes.
Porreca loved the experience. For him, the only thing close to this was being part of a theater performance in New York when he was with the Adirondack Phantoms.
“It was awesome,” Porreca said. “[Ramsay] was down to earth in meeting you, made you feel comfortable when we got there. The whole time he asked questions that you look back and you’re like, ‘Man, he really was paying a little bit of attention and trying to make us feel right at home.’ He asked about family, he asked what we did, he asked all sorts of questions.”
Ramsay also did his homework, as Porreca said the star even congratulated him on the success the Phantoms had last season, when they recorded the second-most standings points in the AHL and made it to the league’s Eastern Conference Finals.
The three were never instructed on what to say or not say at The Shanty. They were just told to follow Ramsay’s lead and make comments about the restaurant if they felt they were needed.
Porreca, Wright and Smith all watched the episode Wednesday together with their families, trying to anticipate what would be shown. He said they’d love to see some of the footage that wasn’t used, since their entire involvement lasted about 5½ hours, but they all enjoyed the experience.
“It was something that I’m glad we were able to do,” Porreca said, “something I’m really proud of having the Phantoms involved with and getting our brand out there. It’s just another way to show off the Lehigh Valley and how great this place is.”
Stephen Gross is a freelance writer.
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