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Restaurant: Impossible comes to Maine

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SOUTH PORTLAND - A Maine restaurant is about to get a helping hand from the TV show “Restaurant: Impossible.” The show, which airs on the Food Network, follows well known celebrity chef and host Robert Irvine as he spends 36 hours and $10,000 to remodel, renovate and re-work the menu of a struggling restaurant. Next week he will be lending his expertise to the owners of Uncle Andy's Diner in South Portland. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Chef Irvine by phone, who told me he has no knowledge about any of the restaurants featured on the show prior to filming. 

The Maine Edge: You've been the host of “Restaurant: Impossible” since 2011. How are the restaurants that are featured on the show selected? 

Irvine: A group of people including Marc Summers [producer] and Jill Littman [co-executive producer] choose them from submissions on our web site. I have nothing to do with that, nor do I ever want to.

TME: In almost every episode you usually discover that it's more than the restaurant's menu, location or decor that is causing it to fail. Often times that means you end up not only renovating the place but actually counseling the staff or owners. Did you ever expect to be a counselor?

Irvine: No. I think when we originally started the show it was based on let's fix the restaurant, put a menu in, make it pretty and move on, but the show took on a life of its own in the first couple of episodes because the people became real with real problems and real solutions. I have no knowledge of the restaurants themselves until I get to the place. I know the name of the restaurant and the two or three people [who own it]. A few years ago when we started this, if you would have asked would I be attached to these people, I would've said absolutely not. Now I talk to every one of them, even if they sold the restaurant. It's the only real reality show on television and we're doing it in 36 hours and $10,000.

TME:  Are you amazed at how many restaurants or family businesses are struggling in America in the 21st century?

Irvine: No, because everyone thinks they can open a restaurant. They get a severance when they're laid off and they think they can start a restaurant if they can talk to people. Small business made America what it is and other countries too, but obviously here in America it's huge and we're trying to preserve that. Everyone can blame the economy but at the end of the day if they're not doing what they need to do in the restaurant - planning food, service, decor - and they fail then they're not doing their job. Seventy-eight out of 100 have been successful and that's huge. 

TME: Do you ever film more than one episode at the same time in the area?

Irvine: We shoot roughly one a week and normally there are a couple of hours distance between them. We've never done them next to one another. 

TME:  Will this be your first trip to Maine for “Restaurant: Impossible?”

Irvine: This is our first trip to Maine for “Restaurant: Impossible.” We've been to Maine for “Dinner: Impossible.”

TME: What do you look forward to most about visiting Uncle Andy's in Southern Maine?

Irvine: Every time I've been to Maine it's been very quick. I don't come in and spend time. I get there the night before, I get up early and work out. Then we do the show and I leave the next morning after we open. I just hope there are great volunteers and lots of people that want to help the local community because at the end of the day the show not only helps the family but draws attention to the local community and the job they do to preserve one of their own.

TME: Has there ever been a restaurant on “Restaurant: Impossible” that you haven't been able to help turn around?

Irvine: No, never. There's no such thing as impossible. It's not in my vocabulary. If there's a job to be done, we do it, and I don't make apologizes for being tough. At the end of 36 hours and $10,000, I have to figure out how to fix their lives, and if there are kids involved it makes it even more difficult.

“Restaurant: Impossible” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on the Food Network.

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