On “Restaurant Impossible,” Chef Robert Irvine has seen a lot. Over the course of nine years (“RI” first premiered in 2011), the show has seen restaurants in dire situations, some even million of dollars in debt. With only two days and $10,000, Irivine has challenged himself again and again to help these struggling businesses reach their full potential. Aside from the challenge of turning an eatery around in record time, and the wild success of the show, one thing gathered from talking to Irvine is that he cares, a lot. Each episode does come with its own unique set of struggles, but the main goal for the celebrity chef is to truly make a difference in people’s lives—for the sake of their business, their familes and themselves.
Irvine sat down with Metro to discuss more about the idea behind the show, the current season and why it’s important for him to see every individual flourish beyond the airdate of “Restaurant Impossible.”
How Chef Robert Irvine cares enough to achieve the impossible
What initially drove the creation of “Restaurant Impossible”?
After working on “Dinner Impossible,” I was asked what else I wanted to do, and I thought of this show—we first shot six episodes, each was thirty minutes, which eventually went up to an hour. It was based on a few things but mainly how to run a successful business. I at first didn’t think we were going to do it, mainly because of the liability of letting me into the building with a sledgehammer—it was pretty high.
What made you decide to put the challenges of only having two days and $10,000 to turn the restaurant around?
It makes it more fun, and basically, I’m challenging myself because I do only have a certain amount of time and money and I have to make an amazing restaurant out of that. Anybody who says that they can do a restaurant in 24 hours or less than 48—I’m just here to say you can’t do it. There are certain things I can do and certain things I can’t, and things have gone wrong, like being in the kitchen and having an issue with the gas main in the middle of filming—these things happen, and you have to fix [those issues] and work around those [problems]. You just have to push it and push it, and I think by the end of day 2 we’ve hit the limit with myself and the owners. Just the emotions and the rollercoaster of it all.
Are a lot of the issues these restaurants face similar?
It comes down to lack of leadership, lack of vision and no money to change. A restaurant should change every three years with the way they look and with the menu four times a year. Right across the board though, I say if you don’t have enough money there is something you can do—clean. One thing that frustrates me the most is when people say, “I have nothing and I can’t do this,” and I say to them well you have hot water, soap and a cloth—so clean, there is no reason it should be this dirty. There is no excuse for that. But ultimately they all are similar in circumstances, they might not like to change. They won’t change the menu because they think the customers won’t come back if they do, and if they put new menu items on the guests won’t come because they like the old menu items. But what happens when the folks who love the restaurant pass away? Are you going to close? If you don’t change, you’ll go out of business, and that’s with any business, not just restaurants.
What can fans expect with the remainder of this current season of “Restaurant Impossible?”
There are so many great episodes. With any episode of “Restaurant Impossible”, I may not be liked by the particular person. When you say your food is not good, your restaurant sucks or certain things go on, they automatically become defensive. But then you end up rooting for people that try hard. So it’s a lot of ups and downs, a lot of emotions, a lot of different styles and reasons why restaurants are failing, even some that are personal. It’s life in general, but each episode is different, there are no two alike and it makes for good televeision. Plus we also have “Restaurant Impossible: Revisited” where we go back to restaurants we visited 8 or 9 years ago to see how they’re doing, some of who were a million dollars in debt and are now successful. So it works, if you listen.
Why is it important for you to go back and re-visit some of these spots that have been on “Restaurant Impossible?”
Well, I keep in touch with most of the folks from years ago, so when I leave, it’s not just about making good television—I care about them and their families. We did one episode with Rosie’s Cafe, and the owner Kaitlyn about five or six months ago got into a car accident. She was driving a motorcycle, it was a hit and run and it left her in a coma. They are keeping the restaurant running right now, so I keep in touch with those folks even from the hospital—so I’m not just there for two days. I’m there, my phone number is there, my email is there. Sometimes if [past participants] make a change they call me—I’ve adopted an interest in what they do. That’s why it’s important to go back, I want to know what happens to them.
Catch “Restaurant Impossible” and “Restaurant Impossible: Revisited” Thursdays on Food Network