‘Restaurant: Impossible’ episode to focus on recovery of Rosie’s cafe owner in Escondido
Episode covers fundraising carnival chef Robert Irvine hosted to pay Kaitlyn Pilsbury’s medical bills
This week last year, Rosie’s Cafe in Escondido was riding high. After being featured on an episode of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” makeover series last spring, the ‘50s-style diner on Grand Avenue was packing in large crowds seven days a week.
But a series of misfortunes have befallen the diner and its owner Kaitlyn Pilsbury in the year since. When “Restaurant: Impossible” revisits Rosie’s in a new episode of the Food Network series airing at 9 p.m. Thursday, May 28, chef/host Robert Irvine promises it will be a special and very emotional experience for viewers.
On Dec. 21, Pilsbury was riding her motorcycle near her home in Vista when a man driving an SUV illegally turned into her path. The SUV driver fled the scene on foot and was never found.
Pilsbury was left comatose after the accident with a serious head injury and broken bones in her legs and one arm. After three months in the hospital and numerous surgeries, she was released to outpatient physical therapy in late February.
Meanwhile, customers who learned about Pilsbury’s accident began leaving cash donations for her at the restaurant. Her mom, Marie Pilsbury, started a Gofundme campaign that raised $30,000. And employees stepped up to keep the restaurant going in Pilsbury’s absence.
Irvine heard about Pilsbury’s accident when someone messaged his Instagram account last December. Because he had formed such a tight bond with the feisty New Jersey native, he asked Food Network officials if they would underwrite a fundraising event to help with her medical bills. Irvine said he felt such a personal connection to Pilsbury that even if the network had refused to underwrite his request, he would have paid for it himself.
“You become very protective of these folks on ‘Restaurant: Impossible’ and she was someone who was very special,” Irvine said in a phone interview last week from his home in Florida. “She was young, feisty and in it to win it. Then she had this terrible accident through no fault of her own, was in coma in the hospital and her whole life flashed in front of her.”
Calling in chefs, friends and event organizers from all over the country, Irvine organized a carnival that took place Feb. 17 on Grand Avenue in front of the cafe. It raised $118,000 for Pilsbury, including $48,000 spent by community members at the carnival, $50,000 donated by Food Network and $20,000 donated by Irvine. The carnival, and an interview with Marie Pilsbury about her daughter’s recovery, was filmed for the special hourlong episode airing Thursday.
The carnival could have been a happy ending for the Rosie’s Cafe story if not for the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered the restaurant a month later. For the first week after the shutdown, the staff offered takeout service. But on March 25, it closed down until further notice. The phone number for the restaurant is no longer operational. On Thursday, the restaurant remained locked with no signs announcing a reopening. Two repairmen could be seen working in the kitchen.
Asked about Pilsbury, Irvine said he has stayed in close touch with her via text and said she is making a slow but steady recovery.
“I talk to her every couple of days and to her mom. She sends me goofy texts. She’s getting there. It will take a while. It wasn’t a scratch, it was a really bad accident. She is being the person that she is, fighting every day,” Irvine said.
Pilsbury couldn’t be reached for comment, but on April 3 she wrote a blog post saying: “I have been maintaining a slow and steady pace to my new life. I have a long road ahead of me but I am motivated, grateful and willing to do all that I need to do, to get where I want to be for a healthy life.”
Thursday’s episode is one of just seven Irvine was able to complete of a planned 13-episode 2020 season before the pandemic shut down restaurants nationwide. He said the pandemic’s impact on the restaurant industry was like a tsunami that may permanently shutter up to 40 percent of the nation’s eateries. He said most small mom-and-pop operations like Rosie’s don’t have the cash reserves to survive a prolonged shutdown like this.
On the series over the past 17 seasons, Irvine has helped rescue more than 100 financially struggling family-run restaurants with tough talk and a $10,000 makeover. On the episode featuring Rosie’s last year, Irvine clashed frequently with the strong-willed Pilsbury but eventually convinced her to raise her prices, upgrade her menu and bring her own Jersey roots into the food and decor. It became one of viewers’ favorite episodes of the 2019 season. He said the series, especially this week’s episode featuring Rosie’s, offers feel-good television during a difficult time.
“The anger, frustration, sadness and joy all mixed together make for an amazing TV show,” he said.
For information about the show, visit foodnetwork.com/shows/restaurant-impossible.
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