For the split second that Hersheypark’s tallest roller coaster Skyrush stopped at the top of a 200-foot hill, Joni Kauffman thought she was going to pass out.
It had already been a whirlwind couple of days for the Cape Horn Family Restaurant owner.
Just two days earlier, she had found out that Robert Irvine from the Food Network reality show “Restaurant: Impossible” was doing a 36-hour, $10,000 makeover of her Red Lion restaurant for his new “ambush season.”
And there she was two days later riding the fastest and tallest roller coaster at Hersheypark with Irvine, conquering step one of the “Restaurant: Impossible” process: facing fears.
“You talk about wanting to pass out,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t believe this’ … I was scared out of my mind.”
Facing fears was a big part of the Cape Horn “Restaurant: Impossible” episode, which aired about two months later on Dec. 3.
Prior to opening Cape Horn Family Restaurant four years ago, Kauffman said she had no experience in the restaurant business, and one of the things she struggled with most was learning how to be the boss.
“I have always been afraid of telling people (what to do),” Kauffman said. “Especially my employees. I never liked to ask them or tell them anything. I was afraid they were going to get mad at me.”
Right away, Irvine told her that was one of the fears she needed to face head-on, and he decided the best way to do it was by helping Kauffman face another fear: roller coasters. His logic was, if she could ride the tallest, fastest coaster in Hershey, then she could take control of her restaurant and be the boss of her staff.
“That was one of the biggest issues I had to conquer,” Kauffman said.
But battling her fears was only part of the process.
In the two days that Irvine spent in Red Lion, he and his crew also renovated the interior of the restaurant, re-trained the staff and changed the menu.
Before the renovation, Kauffman said she remembers the restaurant as dark, dingy and needing a lot of attention.
Now, she said it’s bright, airy and open.
“I just come in every morning and just stand here and look at it,” she said. “It’s been two months and I still can’t believe it. This can’t be the same restaurant.”
Cape Horn now has new flooring, new tables and chairs, reupholstered booths, plaid wallpaper and a new open concept.
When she first saw the look of the place, Kauffman said she almost fell over.
“It felt like I was walking in a whole new world,” she said. “It was amazing. The one producer kept laughing at me because all I could think to say was, 'It was amazing.' I couldn’t believe it.”
The menu also went through some big changes in the past two months.
Initially, Irvine stripped down the menu to include only a few items, such as baked meatloaf, crispy shrimp, herb-baked cod, tangy barbecue chicken, calamari and a bacon and corn fritter with avocado salsa.
But after receiving complaints that the menu was too small, Kauffman recently added some old customer favorites, including chicken pot pie, roasted chicken, shepherd’s pie and a selection of sandwiches and melts.
Since the renovation, Kauffman said business has picked up significantly.
Two months ago, Cape Horn was on the verge of bankruptcy. If Irvine hadn’t brought “Restaurant: Impossible” to Red Lion when he did, Kauffman said she probably would have closed within a few weeks.
But now, she estimates that business has at least doubled, if not tripled. She had to hire four new servers and four new cooks just to keep up, she said.
In the future, Kauffman said she’d like to expand the restaurant to include a banquet room. But for now, her main priority is practicing what Irvine taught her.
“It’s making my staff get on board with teamwork … not being afraid of changing and even putting new things on the menu and trying out new recipes,” she said. “I have to get over my fears and go for it.”
Hours and information
What: Cape Horn Family Restaurant
Address: 601 Lombard Road, Red Lion
Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
More information: Call 717-246-6314 or visit Cape Horn Family Restaurant on Facebook.