Robert Irvine's more comfortable talking about the food business than his celebrity status, but the host of Food Network's "Restaurant: Impossible" has built up quite a fan base.
At a recent taping of a show in Twin Lakes, Wis., he drew the attention of everyone from a 95-year-old to an 8-year-old girl.
"She was totally enamored," he said of the 8 year old in a recent phone interview. "She told me, 'You know, we don't watch any cartoons. We watch you on TV.'
"I'm flattered," he said of the attention. 'I'm surprised."
But he's quick to point out what he's more proud of is the 63 restaurants he's turned around so far as host of the television show. Of the 74 failing restaurants Irvine has worked to revamp, only 10 haven't made it. The verdict is still out on one, he said.
"These were people in bankruptcy, losing their homes, their savings, with credit card debt," he said. "We give them hope. We give them a second chance. I just love what I do."
As part of the television show, Irvine tries to save America's most desperate restaurants from failure in just two days with only $10,000. He'll next stop in Woodstock Wednesday and Thursday to help Angelo's Restaurant, 117 E. Van Buren St.
He said he doesn't know anything about any of the restaurants until the day he arrives.
"I know 'Groundhog Day' was filmed there, and that's all I know," he said of his upcoming visit to the Woodstock Square.
Here's more of what Irvine had say of his job and "Restaurant: Impossible":
Why do you think the show has built up such an appeal, not just to those involved in the restaurant business, but to the general public as well?
I think it's because it's real people with real problems, family problems, relationship problems, marriage problems, children problems and I've had them all.
When we started the show, it was about the restaurant business. It turned into this great relationship show, which talks about everything under the sun. . .
If the family is strong and the business is strong, then the restaurant will work, and I think people see that. They associate that with real life.
Do have a favorite episode and/or restaurant that you've visited?
Every one of them. You know why? Because these people are all going through difficult times. . . What people don't understand is you get so attached to these families in two days, and I never thought we would. We care about them. I actually care about them. It's not television. It's their livelihood, their homes and businesses. That's why I think it resonates with people, especially in these economic times.
What is the biggest mistake a restaurant owner can make when starting a business?
Not having enough capital to start with and not having enough knowledge. When you start a restaurant business, you have to have a minimum of six months of your salary in the bank and also six months of what you anticipate your bills to be. It's going to take you that long to make money.
How stressful is the show's two-day deadline. Ever feel like it's just not enough time or money?
Every week. What people are just starting to realize is that it's all real. A lot of people thought it was fake, that troops were coming in on trucks and 500 chefs . . . We don't do that. Other shows do that. We don't. This is real. I come in . . .
I choose not to know anything about the restaurant when I go to it. I know the names of the people when I go in, and that's all I know.
If you could offer one piece of advice to restaurant owners, what would it be?
Learn the business using somebody else's money. Got to a place and work for somebody. Get all the ins and outs of it and then make the decision when you think you can make it. A lot of people go out and max out a credit card and start a business. They're six months into it and already losing 10s of thousands of dollars a month.
Any advice you'd offer those dreaming of opening their own restaurant one day? Can anyone do it?
Absolutely, but they've got to know that America is the land of opportunity and you can do anything if you work hard. You can achieve anything. You have to understand the dynamics behind that, the money it takes, the people skills, the leadership skills. All those things come into play.
Is it tough to decide which restaurants to "save"? Are there many to choose from?
"I don't have anything to do with that. There are a team of people that pick that, and I just show up on the day of.
What is your favorite meal?
I'm a sucker for roasted chicken and mashed potatoes. That's my one meal.
What is one meal every restaurant should serve?
Roasted chicken and mashed potatoes.