Video: Chef Robert Irvine on surprising the Cape Horn Family Restaurant

Watch the show

What: "Restaurant: Impossible," featuring Cape Horn Family Restaurant in Red Lion

Air date: 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17 (tentatively)

Channel: Food Network

As restaurant owner Joni Kauffman served customers at Cape Horn Family Restaurant in Red Lion earlier this week, she assumed it would be just another typical work day.

But when Chef Robert Irvine from the Food Network reality show "Restaurant: Impossible" walked through the doors, she knew it would be anything but typical.

"Restaurant: Impossible" has been renovating failing restaurants across the country and restoring them to profitability for 12 seasons.

This season - which begins Oct. 22 - is an "ambush season," co-executive producer Jill Littman said, which means that each of the restaurants featured, including Cape Horn, had no idea that "Restaurant: Impossible" was coming.

It's a very different experience from the last time the "Restaurant: Impossible" came to Central Pa. to renovate Harrisburg's Dodge City Steakhouse , Irvine said.

When Irvine told Kauffman Cape Horn was chosen to be featured on the show, he said she cried for 45 minutes.

"If I showed up in your business and walked in your kitchen, and you were serving food and you saw me, how would you feel?" Irvine said.

Cape Horn Family Restaurant, located at 601 Lombard Road, Red Lion, was chosen by producers after Kauffman's husband, Barry, submitted an application, explaining that his wife was struggling both personally and financially, Littman said.

"It was a compelling application," she said, "and it seemed like she really was desperate for help."

Joni Kauffman opened the restaurant four years ago after working as an EMT for 36 years. She had no formal training or knowledge about how to run a restaurant.

Now, more than $250,000 later, Irvine said the restaurant is on the verge of bankruptcy. Without "Restaurant: Impossible," he predicted Cape Horn would have been closed by next week.

Walking in to Cape Horn Tuesday was Irvine's "biggest nightmare," he said.

"The carpets were disgusting, no cleaning, the staff doing not what they're supposed to do — taking a paycheck and taking advantage of the owner."

According to York County restaurant health inspections, Cape Horn has also been out of compliance as recently as May 5.

But in the next 36 hours and with a $10,000 budget, Irvine planned to fix all of that.

He and his crew, along with dozens of volunteers from the area, started working around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and didn't stop until about 2:30 a.m. About 90 local volunteers also helped with the renovation in three shifts, Irvine said. After a couple hours of sleep, they were back at it again bright and early Wednesday morning.

By Wednesday night, Irvine said the restaurant would have a new menu, new food, new décor and a trained staff. He couldn't go into the specifics of the renovation, but he said the restaurant will look "nothing like it was."

Joni Kauffman was also unable to comment on the renovations and restaurant changes, due to a non-disclosure agreement with the show. But she did post on Facebook that Cape Horn is looking to fill positions for servers, bussers, a host or hostess and prep and line cooks.

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Alysha Bauer, of Red Lion, stopped by the restaurant Wednesday morning and said she can't wait to see the transformation.

"This was our go-to breakfast spot," she said, but she hasn't been back for about a year due to slow service and poor quality of food. "It just got to the point where we stopped coming, so I'm really excited to have it back."

If everything remains on schedule, Irvine said he planned to reopen the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The restaurant is no longer accepting reservations for Wednesday night, but customers can stop by Thursday morning, when the restaurant will resume normal business hours.

"It's amazing to watch," Irvine said of the renovation process. "It's a life transformation. People think 'Restaurant: Impossible' is about a restaurant. Yes, we fix the restaurant, we make it work. (But) to see (Kauffman's) face tonight (at the reopening), and see the food put out instead of the food they put out yesterday and the way the staff has changed and all those things, these are real people. They have lives, they have businesses, they have mortgages - my job is to make sure they're not thrown out on their feet."

If you go

What: Cape Horn Family Restaurant

Where: 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, email or visit Cape Horn Family Restaurant on Facebook .


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