Can ‘Impossible’ makeovers lift fortunes of two North County restaurants?

The newly remodeled interior of The Incredible Cafe in Rancho Bernardo, which underwent a $10,000 makeover last week for the TV show “Restaurant: Impossible.”
(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Two cafes in Inland North County have been treated to $10,000 makeovers this month, courtesy of the Food Network series “Restaurant: Impossible.”

The transformations of Rosie’s Cafe on Grand Avenue in Escondido and The Incredible Cafe in Rancho Bernardo’s New Mercado shopping center were filmed for two episodes of the reality makeover television show that’s set to relaunch this spring.

To ensure the revamps remain under wraps until the episodes air in April, the owners of Rosie’s and Incredible Cafe were asked by producers not to post any photos or menus on their websites or social media pages and to avoid interviews and publicity. But their fans have been doing their own investigating, tastings and photography.

On Sunday morning, diner Kathy Carpenter posted photos of the new decor and menu items at Rosie’s Cafe on her personal Facebook page. With her husband, Bob, Carpenter runs another downtown Escondido cafe, Sunny Side Kitchen. They sampled two breakfast dishes at Rosie’s which Carpenter said she “thoroughly enjoyed.”

The whirlwind makeovers were a boon to both local cafes, which were in aging buildings in dire need of decor updates.

The new interior of Rosie’s Cafe in Escondido, which recently underwent a $10,000 remodel courtesy of the TV renovation show “Restaurant: Impossible.”
(Pam Kragen/San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Restaurant: Impossible” — which ran from 2011 to 2016 and was renewed this month — sends veteran British chef Robert Irvine into a struggling American restaurant where he studies its menu, business practices, decor, concept and cleanliness and teaches the owner how to rightsize the menu, rework the recipes, market the business and better train the staff. Then they transform the venue in just 36 hours with a small army of volunteers from the community. The series returns for its new season on Saturday, April 20.

On reopening day at both restaurants — the new Rosie’s debuted Jan. 13 and Incredible Cafe reopened Saturday — most of the tables were full, with a line out the door at Rosie’s and a steady flow at Incredible Cafe. Some visitors to Incredible Cafe came in Saturday just to see the new look and take home a copy of the new menu.

Diner Karen Jaden visited Incredible Cafe on Saturday for lunch and ordered one of the new items, the Incredible BLT sandwich. She said she liked the sandwich and the new decor and is looking forward to seeing the episode on Food Network this spring.

“It’s nice that they wanted to help out a local restaurant like this,” Jaden said. “Small businesses need all the help they can get.”

Glazed salmon teriyaki with bok choy and jasmine rice, one of the new menu items developed by chef Robert Irvine at The Incredible Cafe in Rancho Bernardo, which recently underwent a $10,000 revamp for the Food Network TV series "Restaurant: Impossible."
(Pam Kragen/San Diego U-T)

Rosie’s, owned by 31-year-old New Jersey native Kaitlyn Rose, was the first to get its makeover. A visit to the venue at 117 W. Grand Ave. on its reopening morning Jan. 13 revealed a new look and menu items inspired by Rose’s upbringing in the Garden State.

The new Rosie’s decor includes a butcher block lunch counter, new floor tile, paint, tabletops, chairs and light fixtures, wall art and signage and the elimination of aging clutter and unused appliances.

The new menu includes several New Jersey/New York-inspired items including the Nicky Newarker hot dog and New Jersey-style Chicken Savoy and Waffle. The breakfast menu hasn’t changed much, though menu prices have been increased by $1 to $3.

The lunch menu is all new. Hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soups and burgers have been replaced with a mix of heartier and mostly hot lunch items. The old Philly Cheese Steak ($11.25) has been upgraded to a cheese steak made with slow-cooked beef short rib ($16). The old J’s Patty Melt ($10.75) is now the Ocho melt with 8 ounces of beef instead of four ($15).

The Incredible Cafe, at 11828 Rancho Bernardo Rd Suite 104, San Diego, reopened after its makeover on Saturday. Volunteers involved in the renovation said the revamp couldn’t have come at a better time.The 22-year-old, family-run cafe was coming up for lease renewal this spring and its operators feared they would lose the lease because its interior decor hadn’t kept up with the times.

Jalapeno and roasted cauliflower mac & cheese, one of the new menu items developed by chef Robert Irvine at Rosie's Cafe in Escondido, which recently underwent a $10,000 revamp for the Food Network TV series "Restaurant: Impossible."
(Pam Kragen/San Diego U-T)

Before the renovation, Incredible Cafe had a generic diner look with old-fashioned chandeliers, pink tables, pink and blue booths, and a half-wall that divided the dining room in half. Now the cafe has modern industrial lighting, a unified white, black and gold color scheme, new tables, repainted chairs, newly upholstered booths and new wallpaper and paint. The half-wall was removed to give the main dining room more of an open look.

As Irvine did at Rosie’s, he created a new decor theme at Incredible Cafe centered around the cafe’s signature menu item, eggs.

Incredible Cafe’s old menu was known for its incredible size, with 12 omelets, 16 egg dishes, 11 Benedicts, 5 frittatas and nearly 60 other items including burgers, sandwiches, Mexican specialties and combo plates.

The new pared-down menu — which servers on Saturday described as still evolving — has just 30 items, including eight new dishes created by Irvine. Because the restaurant’s longtime owner, Liz Song, is Korean, Irvine created several new Korean-inspired dishes including a Kimchi Fried Rice Omelet and Kimchi Benedict. Prices haven’t changed, with most items from $11 to $14.