The parking lot outside Smitty's Restaurant in Clearwater saw a flurry of activity Wednesday morning, as the popular Food Network reality show "Restaurant Impossible: filmed a segment under a tight deadline.
Large white tents were set up in Smitty's parking lot. Construction crews scrambled to give a new look to furniture from the restaurant. In another area of the parking lot, a production crew was interviewing two people who may have been restaurant workers, managers or perhaps even the owners. Celebrity chef Robert Irvine, who is the star of the show, walked quickly outside of the restaurant while talking on a cell phone.
If you're a fan of the show, it's a familiar scene; Irvine and his crew scramble to give a makeover to a struggling restaurant over a two-day period with a budget of $10,000.
Wednesday's filming was Irvine's third trip to Pinellas County in less than a year. Last April, he hosted a live cooking show at Ruth Eckerd Hall, and in March he appeared in Palm Harbor at Innisbrook's Transitions PGA Tour.
During that visit, Irvine sat down with Patch to talk about what happens behind the scenes of Restaurant Impossible:
Patch: The stakes are high for restaurant owners on Restaurant Impossible. What's it like to have to go in and give them a dose of reality?
Robert Irvine: "When I first get there, because I choose not to know anything, the producers go in and check the financials and whatever else out. I choose not to know who they are because I want their real reactions. I want them to tell me their story. It is a real story, it's a real show, it's not made up. I can't make this stuff up. So, when I get there, the first eight hours is very tough.
As far as when you tell somebody that they've been doing something wrong and their food is awful and the place is dirty; you know, it's real. It's me telling you that it's dirty, disgusting and I wouldn't eat here.
Then you would look into why it got to that point. What's the family dynamic? That's where the show quote-unquote takes its own road.
Because I can walk in and I can see the things, but the family dynamics you never know that until the days unfold. I've had people that their husbands have shot themselves and left little kids behind because of financial debt. I've had people that were raped, and I found out about it on the show.
These are things that I can not share with you in-depth, but I have a responsibility to these human beings to find them help and to figure that out, it's personal to me.
When they invite me into their life, it becomes my life and people say to me, 'You do such great things'. We do we really affect change and we really help people.
It's such a great feeling when I've done what I do. I'm tired throughout it, don't get me wrong. And I have two great helpers, Tom and Cheryl, who help me figure it out.
But, I have to look at what restaurants are around; should it be this type of restaurant? What food should it be serving? I need to retrain the staff, remake the restaurant, do the kitchens, re-educate the cooks if there are any cooks, or hire people.
There are so many things that take their own life during that 48 hours. It is a real 48 hours and a real $10,000. It's just, sometimes you get to the point of three o'clock on day two and you're wondering 'This is never gonna get done'.
And the reason I'm so emphatic about opening at 6 p.m. is every hour that I'm late is $1,000 that I can't give to the family.
We create the menus to serve on average between 300-400 people. So, the first night, of course, everyone wants to come and see it. So we'll do that many numbers, we have to turn the tables very quickly and most times, that's the most amount of revenue that that restaurant has ever seen.
So, it gives them a good chance of success when they've got money coming in the door."
Patch: It's amazing how you serve 300 to 400 dinners. The kitchen must get slammed?
Robert Irvine: "You seat them all at once. So that's why I create the menu based on 'Okay what can we put out? I can't create a menu before because I don't know the level of the cooks. Until I see how they cook, I can't create the menu. We create the menu based on their technical abilities, kitchen set-up, and then we feed them."
Patch: How long are the days when you're on location?
Robert Irvine: "We go the full time. I may get an hour or two sleep in the morning if I'm lucky. If not, then we go straight through."
- 10 Questions for Food Network Chef Robert Irvine
- Celebrity Chefs Ham it Up at Innisbrook
- Food Network's Restaurant Impossible Filming in Clearwater
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