Robert Irvine and Restaurant Impossible: Building a community one restaurant at a time


Robert Irvine and Restaurant Impossible understand that a restaurant is more than just a location that serves tasty food. It can be the heart of a community.

Restaurant Impossible and Robert Irvine understand that a restaurant renovation is more than just a fresh coat of paint, a clean kitchen and a revamped menu. In many ways, that restaurant represents a community. From the people behind the restaurant to the guests at the table, when all parts come together to serve each other, everyone will thrive.

For 16 seasons, Chef Irvine and the Food Network have been bringing hope to struggling restaurants. It is more than just revitalizing the décor or creating a new menu. These restaurant interventions are as much about the people as the business. When the people succeed, the business is set on a path to flourish.

As Chef Irvine neared the end of filming for Season 16, he graciously took some time to chat about his philosophy and approach to Restaurant Impossible. Even though he walks into each and every restaurant with fresh eyes and a clean slate, he takes charge of the situation. Although his tough love approach might seem brash, he genuinely wants each and every person, not just the business, to succeed.

That personal connection between Chef Irvine and those struggling business owners is what makes this Food Network show successful and a popular with fans. It isn’t about making a restaurant owner feel small or tear them down further. It is about uncovering the problem and giving the restaurant owner the tools to fix it.

Putting aside that good television moment, Chef Irvine puts the focus on the people. He was very clear during our conversation. His job doesn’t end and his intervention doesn’t stop when the film crew shuts down. He has a personal, vested interest in getting these restaurant owners to find the success in both their business and their lives.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Irvine instantly gets a sense that he wants to make a connection with people. While these television shows offer a glimpse to that part of his personality, talking to him, understanding his demeanor and appreciating his philosophy has made me appreciate that Restaurant Impossible is more than just a television production.

As we spoke, Chef Irvine specifically said that he has a vested interested in each and every person’s success. He understands that his responsibility doesn’t end “when you walk away from filming those two days, that restaurant, that business owner still needs to be successful personally and business wise.” Whether he is just a call, text or email away, he continues that relationship.

Chef Irvine shared how many of these restaurant owners share emotional, heart-wrenching stories. In a way this experience is like 48 hours of intense therapy. While those private moments are not meant for public consumption, they are vital to setting these people on a better path.

One of the biggest themes to Restaurant Impossible Season 16 is that the show is looking to transform lives. Even when these people are at the depths of their despair, they are looking for that positive moment to shine from the pit of darkness. Even when they might not want to face another problem, overcoming those hurdles can, and will, bring a better outcome.

While the restaurant owners and employees are directly impacted by this transformation, the intervention extends far beyond that group. In many ways, this experience transforms communities.

Chef Irvine clearly states that there is an economic impact to a fledgling restaurant. In addition to those directly employed by the restaurant, the business is always tied to the community. Without that community support, success is futile.

While the Food Network show embraces community assistance to help achieve the transformation, Chef Irvine is very clear that the community involvement cannot, and should not, end when he disappears.

Part of his consideration in revitalizing these restaurants is to bring it closer to the community. Without the community’s patronage, the restaurant will continue to struggle. Although there are many people who travel across the U.S. to visit these Restaurant Impossible locations, the restaurant needs its community support.

From the menu to the décor to any change, the area is considered in each step. Chef Irvine isn’t going to put a vegan restaurant in the middle of meat and potatoes country. That restaurant needs to serve the community and the community needs to serve them.

Chef Irvine mentioned that it is a two-way street with both the community and the restaurant. If the restaurant doesn’t serve a community’s need, it will not be successful. If the community does not support the restaurant, the restaurant will close. They both need each other and have to embrace each other.

That situation doesn’t mean that the restaurant remains stagnant. While there might be a signature dish that everyone adores, the chef can add something new to try. The décor can get a boost every year. Staying current revitalizes the experience and keeps guests coming back time and again.

While Season 16 is nearing its completion, Robert Irvine and Restaurant Impossible still have a lot of work to do. In addition to being a support to former seasons, the show continues to help business who are in need of a life transformation. After all, transforming lives isn’t impossible, but it does take hard work.

Restaurant Impossible Season 16 airs on Food Network on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET.

Robert Irving is involved with several projects including the Robert Irvine Foundation, restaurants,  Family Table cookbook, magazine and food company.

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What was your favorite Restaurant Impossible transformation? How do you think that this Food Network show transforms lives?