Robert Irvine is the buff star of Food Network's Restaurant: Impossible, taking miserably failing restaurants and turning them into success stories. He's also the subject of many photographs at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, most memorably last year when he provided his back as transportation for fellow Food Network luminary, Paula Deen.
Irvine has a busy weekend ahead of him with a full schedule of events, starting with a stop at Overtown's Booker T. Washington High School on Friday, February 24 to tour the vegetable garden and cook with students. Later Friday evening, Irvine will host Party Impossible at the Herzog & de Meuron parking garage at 1111 Lincoln Road at 10 p.m.. This first-time event is designed to engage guests with interactive challenges that Irvine will do with help from the audience. We're not sure, exactly, what's in store, but the buzz ranges from Irvine having to break down a giant tuna to carving an ice sculpture.
We caught up with Irvine, who told us about his show, Party Impossible, and what to do if you want to run a failing restaurant.
New Times: On Restaurant: Impossible you're known for being a turnaround artist. You like to take ridiculous challenges like failing restaurants, miserable cooks and turn them into something more than a horror show.
How do you like doing that?
Robert Irvine: Restaurant: Impossible has been awesome for me. We've done 36 restaurants and 33 of them are now thriving when they probably would have closed down. If you give people knowledge and they listen to you, they can better their lifestyle and their business. So many people become complacent in what they do and for 20 years they make great money and all of a sudden they're not making any money... There's a reason for that. They just don't see it.
What are the three things you should do if you want to fail in the restaurant industry?
First of all, open a business with no backup money. That's an instant failure because if you don't have at least half a year's revenue in reserve you are going to fail. You don't know when bad times are going to hit and you're still going to have to pay your bills and your staff.
Number two is getting into the business without any prior knowledge of the restaurant industry. I've met a load of people who think the restaurant business is so easy. They take the money they've got, they take out a bank loan, they borrow from their family and they expect to be successful because they've been going to restaurants all their life.
Also, hire people that don't know anything. By all means, never hire anyone that knows more than you.
This is the first time you're hosting a premiere party at SoBe Fest. Can you tell us about Party Impossible?
Party Impossible is going to be so dramatic. I'm going to draw people in. I'm going to ask people to help me. I want to make this evening interactive. I really want to get everyone who comes to this party involved. Trust me. Everyone will be involved in some way, shape, or form. And you can drink. Because the more you drink, the funner it gets.
There are rumors of some interesting challenges. We hear you're going to be breaking down a tuna and stuffing éclairs?
Don't believe what you read because I told them I don't want to know what the challenges are in advance. I want everything to be a complete surprise so that I really have to work. I will tell you that the entrance is going to be very dramatic. I'm expecting lots of surprises.
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Where do you hang out when you come to Miami for the festival?
I gotta say I love to go to Joe's Stone Crab. Last year I spent a lot of time at BLT Steak. I was at Tantra a couple of years ago, which I really enjoyed. When I go out, I don't make reservations under my name, because I don't want to be treated any differently than anyone else.
So we have to ask. The big buzz at last year's festival, and what made it on every blog, was Paula Deen riding you. What happened there?
Well Paula and I go back a long way. She's like everyone's mum. You can't help but love Paula Deen. When we get together, I'm like her surrogate son. We have so much fun and that You Tube video went viral of Paula riding me like a donkey. She always wants to do two things when she sees me. Either take off my shirt or have me do stupid stuff. Anything I do with Paula, she just taunts me.
If you could host one event at the festival and make it up from scratch, what would it be?
I would have 40 of the most well known chefs doing obstacle courses in food. It would be a race in teams. Each team would be given challenges to complete. And it would be judged by kids. I'm not talking about just cutting things up. It would be weird stuff like with rattlesnakes. It would be like Survivor meets Iron Chef meets Sesame Street.