by Amélia Ávila (’24) | February 11, 2021
One of Food Network’s longest running TV shows, Restaurant Impossible is a must-watch for those who want more insight on the food industry—with a little culinary drama mixed in. The series stars Robert Irvine, a British celebrity chef whose claim to fame is cracking garlic cloves with his bare hands rather than his mentoring role on All Star Academy. The show follows Irvine’s trip to various restaurants around the U.S. as he attempts to save establishments in danger of closing. Renovating the venues, revamping menus, and restructuring business plans, Robert helps the owners rescue their restaurants within a reasonable budget. Although verbal onslaughts of criticism are not the primary means of entertainment, the chaos Robert Irvine creates on set sometimes mirrors the infamous Gordon Ramsey. However, unlike his Scottish counterpart, Irvine usually refrains from expletives on cable TV.
When it comes to the food industry, Robert believes that a restaurant’s personality or story is just as important as the food itself. For example, in a Season 15 episode entitled “Caribbean Catastrophe,” Robert travels to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to help a restaurant called Chez Olga. While its unique wooden exterior definitely brought character to the locale, its yellow and green colored walls led Robert to believe it was a Jamaican restaurant, until he looked at the menu, which featured Haitian classic dishes. Chez Olga’s owners, mother Olga and daughter Dodlie Benoit, were on a strict budget of ten thousand dollars for the renovation. Robert talked to the chefs and gave them tips on how to improve the dishes without ditching the previous menu. His interior designer partner, a former HGTV designer, remodeled the interior of the space to reflect the Benoit family’s personality. The restaurant is still open for business, showing both the Benoit family’s and the Restaurant Impossible team’s hard work.
Though there are numerous success stories of restaurants benefiting from the show, other restaurants were not so lucky. Located in the town of Escondido, California, Rosie’s Cafe brought 1950’s nostalgia to its customers. The diner was featured in Restaurant Impossible twice, thus undergoing budget analyses and visual makeovers. Kaitlyn “Rosie” Pilsbury, the owner, was a victim of a hit-and-run and was left in a coma. After a loyal Rosie’s customer notified Robert Irvine about the incident, Robert was eager to help. With the support of Food Network, he helped raise money for Rosie’s medical costs and restaurant bills during her recovery. Unfortunately, the restaurant’s misfortune continued when it had to be shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rosie’s Cafe permanently shut its doors in the summer of 2020.
Around the U.S., large chain stores like McDonalds and Chipotle make it harder for family-owned or smaller restaurants to thrive. Additionally, the pandemic’s impact has disproportionately affected those same restaurants who do not have the funds to combat COVID-19 costs and the unemployment crisis nationwide. Restaurant Impossible aims to combat this issue. In his own words, Robert Irvine said, “My job, my calling, is to help small businesses. The lessons in Restaurant: Impossible is a lesson for any small business. The business part of the show is relevant to all of them.”
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