The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Food Network celebrity chef and Comcast Business spokesperson Robert Irvine. Courtesy photo.

Celebrity chef returns to Granite State
Robert Irvine shares insight on restaurant success and failure


 Food Network and celebrity chef Robert Irvine was in Manchester last week visiting its Comcast Business office. Partnered with Comcast Business as a spokesperson, Irvine speaks to employees on the importance of tech-savvy businesses — including restaurants. Irvine is most known for his shows on the Food Network, including Restaurant: Impossible, where he makes over struggling restaurants in 36 hours. He’s visited New Hampshire four times in the past two years for the show, giving makeovers to Gusanoz Mexican Restaurant in Lebanon (Season 4, 2012, and Season 7, 2013) and Chatterbox in Windham (Season 3, 2012), the latter of which is now closed. He came back in June to film an episode at The Country Cow Restaurant and Bar in Campton, which will air sometime before Christmas. 

Irvine took a few minutes to chat with the Hippo about his television shows and the restaurant industry and offered an inside scoop on the upcoming Restaurant:Impossible episode on The Country Cow.
You’re most known for your programs Dinner: Impossible and Restaurant: Impossible on the Food Network. What was one of the most challenging episodes that sticks out to you?
Dinner: Impossible, there’s many, but I would say the worst one was the Ice Hotel in Quebec City — -10 degrees, -30 degrees wind chill outside of the ice hotel, creating a meal for 60 people, having to find the food. And extreme cold reacts to food differently. I literally put a tomato in the ice hotel and within three minutes it was crystallized. … So that was the worst one. The most memorable are always going to be the ones that I’ve done with the military; the 60th anniversary of the Air Force at the Sheppard Air Force Base, where I met the Tuskegee Airmen. … And at Twentynine Palms, where I fed 1,000 Marines the night before they went to Iraq. [With] Restaurant: Impossible, every one is different. I’ve had 86 percent successful restaurant turnarounds in 105 restaurants. 
You’ve been to New Hampshire a few times now for Restaurant: Impossible. And I know you were just at The Country Cow Restaurant and Bar in Campton.
And I got to tell you, they are killing it. And I’m giving you an insider thing here, that will be the first of a new formatted show in Restaurant: Impossible. You’re going to see things on that show that you’ve never seen before. Which is really, really cool. I can tell you, it’s never been done. That was a whole re-formatted show for this episode. 
So that’s the most you can reveal about it?
You can eat there, the place is absolutely drop-dead beautiful. It wasn’t dirty, but the story is so shocking, when you see it you’re like OMG. The place is beautiful, it’s like Driving Miss Daisy — you see the covered bridge. The story is something we have never, ever done before, ever. You’re going to see pieces of their audition tape, should I say. But I can’t say anymore. It’s really exciting to me, I can tell you.
There are a number of reasons why a restaurant might be failing. What are two of the common mistakes that are the most fatal to the survival of a restaurant?
People think that they can cook well at home, and they can talk to people, so they should own a restaurant. … The first one, I would say, is they’re afraid of change. They’ve been doing it a certain way for so many years; this is the way we set the table, this is the way we clean, this is the way we cook, this is the we do our menu. And unfortunately in this business, the only thing that is constant is change. We need to be looking every three years — every year really — at a major haul, whether it be paint, floor, ceiling, table-top, uniforms. To keep it fresh, because 2,000 restaurants open a week and a 1,000 close in our country. … [Next], we do all these things on our phone, but [if] the restaurant doesn’t have Internet and basics, we won’t go to it. Why? Connectivity is the most important thing in our society today. What makes businesses fail? No back office, no reporting, no control systems, stuff walking out the door — oh and by the way, staff stealing, whether it be alcohol or steaks — there’s no reporting of that product. Technology. … People in the restaurant, hotel, motel and bar business think that technology is very expensive, and it’s not. The cloud-based product has got everybody confused. So my job is to make sure they become un-confused by taking a simple approach and showing and educating them to the benefits of technology in their business.
Just curious, how often do you get food poisoning, and have you figured out any good remedies?
I’ve only got food poisoning once. I haven’t figured out a remedy for it, other than I trust my senses now. And I just walked out of a kitchen actually just last week, I shut one down. Normally, I let the guests try it, because they sign a waiver. … This time I actually walked into the kitchen and I shut the kitchen down. If I feel it’s unsafe, I won’t eat it and I won’t let the people eat it. I’ve only done that once, and that was last week. No remedies, just don’t eat it.
Do you ever get frustrated with restaurant owners during the show? Or even after the show when you follow up?
Yes, yes, yes. I can pretty much tell you, I speak to every one of these restaurants still to this day. I get their menu changes, I get their kids’ birthdays, I get their arguments with their husbands and wives — I get everything. Do I get frustrated? Yeah. For the most part they listen. Those that don’t are the ones that fail because they go back to their old ways.
It seems like new restaurants are opening every day here in southern New Hampshire. Do you have any general advice for new restaurant owners?
Here’s my advice to anybody, not just new people: Before you even think about opening a restaurant, you better have the capital investment to sustain that restaurant. That is six months of your projected revenue in the bank, six months of your projected expenses in the bank, and then a fund if anything goes wrong — ovens, refrigerators, whatever. You better have worked for a company for two years prior to that — front, back, middle — so you understand it. And then if you’ve got all those credentials, then feel free to open a restaurant. But it comes with a warning. Restaurants are only successful if they’re worked at daily. You have to have systems and procedures in place, and you have to have technology as a base of those systems. And it sounds like I’m preaching, and I am, because the people that don’t have those systems in place are the people that lose money, and they don’t know where it’s going. They’re the people that don’t know their food costs, their labor costs, their overheads. … No matter what business, any business, not just the hotel or hospitality business, you have to have tight reins over every facet of that business, and the only way you can do that is with technology as your friend. 
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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