Local ‘Impossible’ restaurant makeovers to debut on Food Network


Three months after undergoing whirlwind 48-hour makeovers for the TV series “Restaurant: Impossible,” Rosie’s Cafe in Escondido and the Incredible Cafe in Rancho Bernardo will finally have their revamps revealed on Food Network.

The series, hosted by tough-as-nails British chef Robert Irvine, will open its 14th season at 9 p.m. April 20 with the episode on Rosie’s Cafe. The Incredible Cafe episode airs at 9 p.m. May 4.

“Restaurant: Impossible” — which ran from 2011 to 2016 and was renewed this year — sends 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 manage and train the staff. Then his team transforms the venue in just 36 hours with $10,000 and a small army of volunteers and vendors from the community.

Although the restaurant owners aren’t allowed to speak to the media or post photos of their renovations or their new menus until the episodes air, Irvine talked about the new season in a phone interview on Thursday.

Irvine said he was thrilled when Food Network invited him to reboot the series this year, because fans around the world have been asking for years if and when it would come back. The series, he said, is about much more than just fixing failing restaurants. It’s often about repairing strained family relationships and preserving the American tradition of mom-and-pop businesses.

“It really does change people, it saves families and it gets the community back together at the end of the day,” he said.

Irvine said the two-day shoot at Rosie’s Cafe was one of his favorite episodes in many seasons because he developed a mentoring friendship with the Escondido cafe’s owner, 31-year-old Kaitlyn Rose. The New Jersey native took over the former Champion’s Restaurant at 117 W. Grand Ave. in 2016, but the business had lost money ever since. Irvine said it was hard work convincing Rose to make the much-needed changes for Rosie’s to survive, but he finally won her over.

“Makeovers are tough, period, but this one was tough emotionally because I truly believe in her and she’s inspiring to me. It’s the first one in many episodes where I really wanted her to succeed. I wanted to teach her. I wanted to get through to her,” he said.

The Rosie’s makeover involved upgrading the menu, raising the prices to a sustainable level and giving the restaurant a new identity inspired by Rose’s personal story and her New Jersey heritage. The episode will feature a guest appearance by San Diego restaurateur Stacey Poon-Kinney, who runs the now-thriving The Trails Eatery in San Carlos. In 2011, Poon-Kinney’s then-struggling restaurant was made over on “Restaurant: Impossible” and she has since competed on “The Next Food Network Star” series.

The Incredible Cafe makeover was less of a bonding experience, Irvine said, but things turned out well in the end. The restaurant, in the New Mercado shopping center at 11828 Rancho Bernardo Rd., Suite 104, was in the red, in dire need of a kitchen overhaul and facing the possibility of losing its lease this spring.

The 22-year-old cafe is owned and operated by Liz Song. Before the makeover, the cafe was known for its enormous menu featuring 44 egg dishes and nearly 60 other items. Post-makeover, the menu has been shrunk to 30 items, including several inspired by Song’s Korean heritage. Irvine said Song had a hard time during the two-day film shoot.

“Liz was feisty, angry and emotional,” Irvine said. “She wanted to succeed, but not knowing how to succeed was taking out her failure on everyone else.”

Irvine said Song’s fiery emotions are typical of how many restaurateurs react because they’ve poured their hearts and souls into their restaurant and they see its failure as a personal failure. Typically, Irvine said, owners are elated when he arrives to “save” them, then they react angrily when he critiques their food and business. Eventually, most come around to recognizing he has their best interests at heart, whether it’s helping them reduce debt to keep the doors open, or getting it in better physical shape so they can sell the business, he said.

“People ask me how I deal with all these personalities. We all have hopes, dreams and fears and hearts get broken and egos get broken,” he said. “I don’t want to make people feel bad or humiliate them. I want to see what their vision was and how it went off the rails. I take this very personally.”

Irvine said that while the formula for “Restaurant: Impossible” is essentially the same as in past seasons, the show has a fresh look and more in-depth style. Much of the action was shot with hand-held cameras, and stationary cameras were kept rolling 24/7, capturing more of the physical and personal transformation process.

“We don’t write the series; it unfolds before our eyes over a 48-hour period,” he said. “It’s more edgy now. There are no rose-colored glasses. It’s way more intense than it was before. Not screaming and shouting intense but the roller-coaster kind of emotion intense.”

Food Network initially renewed “Restaurant: Impossible” for a four-show season that will also include the makeover of Filomena’s Italian Kitchen and Market in Costa Mesa on April 27 and the Copper Steer Steakhouse in Safford, Ariz., on May 11. The series has also been greenlighted for a 15th season, which will have eight episodes that will begin airing in August.

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