This Saturday, July 20, marks the premiere of the all-new season of Food Network’s long-running hit series “Restaurant Impossible” with famed chef Robert Irvine. In the show, Irvine is given just two days and $10,000 to help restaurant owners around the country turn their businesses around. I caught up with Irvine ahead of the premiere to talk about working within the boundaries the show has created and hammering home some tough lessons to those in need of hearing them.
In your show, you give yourself two days to turn a restaurant around. What is the hardest part of giving yourself such a tight deadline?
Robert Irvine: I think the hardest part is, I don’t know anything before I walk into the restaurant. I don’t know about the people, the restaurant itself. So, what you see is real-time. For me, it’s getting the owners to relax and trust me. Because if they don’t trust you, it’s a fight the whole 48 hours. Luckily, in the 190-something shows that we’ve done, normally about eight hours and one minute [in], they realize I’m here to help them. So, I think that the toughest part is to get them to drop 30 years of bad habits and listen to something new. Change is not something that we like.
Do you ever wish you could have done more?
Robert Irvine: I always wish for more time. I always wish. But, the coolest thing is, those that really want to succeed really throw themselves in and listen. If you look this Saturday, we have comprised a new show of “Restaurant Impossible,” new season. We have a new show that’s called “Restaurant Impossible Revisited.” We go back and visit these restaurants that I did seven or eight years ago. And they might [have] taken to heart what I said and gone beyond that and they’re still successful. Not everybody is successful. I think those that listen are.
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You are only allowed to use $10,000. Is that as big an obstacle for you?
Robert Irvine:It is, of course. It is very tough to design as the figures change, so we have to reformat or re-use existing product as we can, reupholster or fix in some way, shape or form. So, obviously time and budget are huge obstacles for me and I want it all done. If the ceiling’s bad, I want the ceiling done. If the floor’s bad, I want the floors done. If the tables are bad, I want — so I’m always pushing constantly to get the most out of that dollar as you can.
Is there ever a time where you think to yourself that a certain restaurant might be a lost cause?
Robert Irvine: I don’t think anybody is a lost cause. Some take longer to learn than others. But again, I believe what the viewer doesn’t see is, when I’m not filming, every second and every minute of 48 hours, I’m going through one of the things that they need to know that we just don’t have time to catch on camera. There are only 42 minutes of the show and I’ve got to break 30 years of bad habits. The camera catches their cooking skills — you know, you see a small portion of them — but that goes on forever. Every minute of that 48 hours is taken up with teaching, so it’s important for them, it’s emotional for them and it is for me, too. Some you really get behind [it], others you don’t. It’s the same level of giving on my part but some people, I don’t know, don’t embrace it as much as others.