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Restaurant: Impossible Review – “Father Knows Worst”

This week, on Restaurant: Impossible, Robert is traveling to South Carolina to help the Hayek Family save their family restaurant, The Old World Italian.

The place is run by George Hayek, Sr. his wife Teresa Hayek and their son, George, Jr. Teresa and George, Jr. are in charge of the kitchen and Italian recipes, while George, Sr. runs the front of the house as well as all of the books.

Day 1 – The History:
16 years ago, the Hayek family decided to open a restaurant together. George, Jr. had just finished cooking school, and the family jumped into the restaurant business, feet first. Things went along swimmingly (supposedly) until about 5 years ago when the recession hit.

The family’s business took a huge hit, and now, they find themselves $48,000.00 in debt, have two mortgages on their house, and have depleeted both of their 401ks. In other words, if Robert can’t work some serious magic, The Old World Italian will have to shut its doors.

Restaurant: Impossible Logo

First Impression:
Robert arrives at The Old World Italian and is struck by how old everything is. Old couches, old tables, old napkins – everything is old. Now, I know that it’s right there in the title, but I don’t think the Hayek’s version of ‘old’ will sell big old bowls of pasta. Unless you like your pasta with a side of dusty furniture.

After a bit of questioning, Robert seems to find out that while it was George, Jr.’s idea to start the restaurant, he knows very little (read: nothing) about the books and how the business is actually run, not to mention the fact that he has not invested even one dollar of his own cash into this business. That’s what dear old dad is for, apparently. Then, Teresa just stands there while George, Sr. blames their failure on the recession and ‘a couple of bad winters’. Robert is skeptical and wants to see a service.

The Service:
Robert brings in his brood of test customers and immediately they are put off by the restaurant’s decor. I don’t blame them. Weird photos of small children dressed in what can only be described as pageant clothes, adorn the tables. It’s off-putting to say the least. That’s not the end of The Old WOrld Italian’s problems.

Back in the kitchen Robert scopes out the huge stash of frozen, ready made foods that The Old World Italian uses for their menu, and is beyond disgusted. George, Jr. supposedly went to cooking school and now he’s relying on frozen foods. He gets a real shock when he sees a possible contamination when raw shrimp is simmered in a cooked red sauce. After questioning George, Jr. about it, Robert is told that this is the way his Mom taught him to cook shrimp, so that’s how he does it. It looks like not only did the Hayeks waste their money on this restaurant, they wasted it on George, Jr.’s culinary education, as well. {slow clap}

Now, I’m not all about kicking people while they’re down, but seriously, this decor is out of control. Peach napkins, creepy kid pictures, bright red, green and white mini blinds and the list goes on. Between that and the shady cooking practices, The Old World Italian is in need of some serious help.

As the food begins to come out to the test customers, we begin to see what could possibly be the biggest problem yet. The food stinks. Dough is raw, shrimp tastes ‘off’, cheese is clumpy. We see dish after dish being sent back to the kitchen. This does not bode with for George, Jr.

Robert’s Tasting:
Instead of his usual step of sitting down at a table to taste all of the food, Robert instead, chooses to watch George, Jr. prepare everything before he tastes it. Robert chooses a variety of items off the menu including veal marsala, rollatini, minestrone, chicken parm, lasagna and grouper.

Things get off on the wrong foot with the first dish, veal marsala. George, Jr. makes the unorthodox decision (aka: wrong decision) to add tomato sauce to the dish which just about makes Robert’s head explode. George, Jr. then goes and breaks the law (yes, the actual law) by serving some other type of fish when the menu calls it grouper.

And now Robert feasts….er, eats. Everything is as we expected. Tasteless sauce, gummy fish, burnt bread crumbs and dry veal. The one dish that had potential was the lasagna. Robert likes the presentation, but that quickly fades away to gagging noises as he takes a bite. Tasteless. The lasagna, not Robert. Although I do question the constant gagging while he eats food. He may want to get that checked out.

A Cook Off:
Robert sends Teresa and George, Jr. to the kitchen to make their own versions of tomato sauce. They must make them from scratch, and then Robert will pick the better sauce. I have a feeling a third option (Robert’s sauce) may win.

After testing both, it turns out I was right! He didn’t like either (shock), so they’ll have to figure something else out.

The Design:
We meet up with Cheryl to discuss her plan for the restaurant’s look. She agrees with everything the test customers and Robert have stated and pretty much sums up the restaurant’s current decor as ‘lame’. Right on, Cheryl.

The restaurant gets emptied and Tom shows up and starts knocking down walls. I love this part.

Cheryl’s plan for The Old World Italian is going to be classic and Venetian with navy blue walls and gold accents. Robert is on board with everything until cheryl and Tom mention the dreaded word ‘carpet’. Luckily, they are able to convince Robert that it’s their only feasible option with all of the unusual angles that the building has.

Teresa needs to head home, due to health problems, but before she leaves, she tells Robert to ‘give the Georges hell, because that’s the only way they’ll learn’. I like Teresa, after all!

The Management Chat:
Robert has a sit down (or rather a stand-in-the-parking-lot) with George, Sr. and the staff. Robert can’t seem to get through to George, Sr. about how the price of dishes should be based on the cost of food. George, Sr. doesn’t seem to have a lot of business savvy. Hence the fact that he’s on Restaurant: Impossible, I guess.

Robert goes to the Hayek’s house and gives the entire family homework. He breaks it to Teresa that they will no longer be using her sauce recipe which she takes in stride. Robert has George, Jr. plan and cost out some menu specials. George, Sr. has the task of doing a bit of soul searching to figure out what could possibly have contributed to their restaurant’s failure that is his fault. Tall order, Robert.

Day 2 – Morning:
Robert arrives at the restaurant to check the status of the design. Cheryl and Tom had success with many things during the night, including the carpet and reinstalling the electric fireplace elsewhere in the space. They did, however, run into a snag with a focal point on one wall. Their materials just aren’t holding up and they need to move on to plan B, which is yet to be determined. Robert (surprisingly enough) holds his temper and goes out to meet the Hayeks.

George, Sr. admits that he has created many of the problems that the restaurant faces and also admits that his wife and son have been trying to tell him that for years. He also proposes the idea of hiring a manager. Teresa and George, Jr. get very emotional discussing how they love George, Sr. but want the old version of him back. George, Sr. is very willing to allow change to happen. Growth, people.

George, Jr. is given the reigns in the kitchen, and it’ll start with new specials and costing them out properly. He produces a shrimp scampi that Robert actually enjoys and then after a quick veal marsala lesson, Robert is convinced that George, Jr. is on the right track to take The Old World Italian to the next level.

Another sit down with George, Sr. and Teresa brings some of the family’s huge financial mistakes to light. One of them being the plethora of coupons and discounts they give out. It totals to almost $23,000 a year that they lose by giving discounted meals through coupons. Yowza. If that’s not a wake up call, I’m not sure what is. The new specials that George, Jr. is working on will definitely be a much more lucrative alternative to the coupon scheme.

Robert meets up with Cheryl and Tom again and they did a great job coming up with a plan B. They reused a family photo and some ornate frames to create a focal point on the large wall. Unlike the previous use of photos, these photos fit seamlessly into the design of the restaurant.

They do run into a snag when one of the construction crew cracks a mirror (as if these people didn’t have enough bad luck, right?) while trying to attach an arch over the top of it. Luckily, Tom and Robert come up with a plan to fix it, and it doesn’t end up slowing them down.

Some quick finishing touches, and the restaurant is ready for the reveal!

The Reveal:
At the end of two days of intense work and emotional upheaval, the Hayeks are nervous and excited to see the new look of The Old World Italian. When they open their eyes in the new space, the entire family is speechless. Teresa bursts into tears and it is hard not to get a bit emotional at the family’s joy and sheer hope that this will be their answer to their prayers.

The decor looks so much better than it did before, although, it’s not my favorite makeover that I’ve seen on the show. While I think Cheryl did a good job of incorporating the family pictures, there is a bit of a disconnect with some of the knick-knacky items that she added to the walls.

One other issue I have about the new restaurant is the fact that the servers are wearing somewhat lame T-shirts. The effort to class the restaurant up was there, so I wonder, how hard would it have been to have the servers wear some button down shirts? The uniform T-shirts just don’t mesh with the new vision.

Other than that, the first service with The Old World Italian’s shiny new decor and re-furbished menu seems to go wonderfully. The new sauce is definitely noticed and enjoyed by all and it looks as if Teresa and George, Sr. will be able to breath a bit easier in the future. I just hope George, Jr. will be able to keep things going and take The Old World Italian into the next realm of success.

This was a great episode, and luckily lacked any of the gross-out factors that so many of the episodes are filled with. In other words, it was mice-free. These people at least know how to clean, which gives me hope that they will be able to keep up the new practices that Robert has put in place. Well done, Robert!

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