Mamma D’s: Restaurant Possible!

Nov 30, 2011

Mamma D’s: Restaurant Possible!

By James D’Arcangelo

downloadThis spring, a team of strangers wielding hammers and crowbars descended on Mamma D’s Restaurant in Pipersville, and took the place apart in no time. The crew’s leader, a burly, surly, overly-muscular, in-your-face, determined type looked on and barked orders, tolerating no nonsense. Restaurant owner Luigi Desiato, looked on sadly while tears welled up in his wife’s, Liz’s, eyes.

Such is the experience when a restaurant (willingly!) undergoes the Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible” challenge, opening its doors to a complete make-over done by restaurateur expert and chef, Robert Irvine, and his design team.

In the weekly show, the owner of a struggling restaurant seeks help from the Food Network. The result is a literal dissection of the restaurant – the menu is scrutinized, the owner is roasted, the staff is disciplined and the restaurant is changed beyond recognition. But, if the owner can push through the painful, tear-jerking process, the result is a brand-new-looking elite restaurant, an updated menu, a changed-for-the-better mindset, and a prolific kitchen that churns out dish after dish (“fresh, fast and great-tasting,” per Irvine). While the pressure on the owner is unfathomable, Irvine and his team are hard-pressed, too – they have to finish the transformation in less than 48 hours, within a confining budget of $10,000.

As background, the Food Network is a booming TV phenomenon, with growing viewership and demographics that range from moms who seek creative twists to traditional dinners, to shows honoring America’s finest foods and restaurants (like “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” on which the Pineville Tavern, located in Pineville, PA, was featured last spring, and has since turned into a local hot spot pulsating with happy customers), to teens who love to watch restaurants get destroyed and immediately resurrected, which perfectly describes “Restaurant Impossible.”

Luigi and Liz Desiato described how his family had bought the restaurant fifteen years before and had sunk over $1,000,000 into their restaurant, and were losing money at rapid and extreme rates. His attempts to pull in customers by combining a petting zoo and a wine store with the restaurant were not working. So he asked for help.

Irvine, a man who has seen it all, dubbed Mamma D’s “one of the most unusual challenges ever.” He called the store at the entryway “a cornucopia of garbage,” and had much worse to say about the petting zoo concept and decor. They all had to go. Much as Luigi was wedded to his dream, as he saw the restaurant in its old form, he understood change must come in the makeover process that he described as “gut-wrenching” and “heart-breaking.”

But Irvine saw key assets. The on-site winery was crucial, as was Luigi’s son, Nick, who had graduated as a chef from the Culinary Institute and was originally under-used in the kitchen.  Irvine told Luigi, “you’re fired as the head chef of the restaurant” and “your son is capable of doing the things you think he is not. He’s in charge of the kitchen.” While normally blunt statements like these would either infuriate or sadden many, Luigi took it all in stride: “In my mind, I kept thinking that this makeover is free, and whenever someone gives you something for free — whether it be a massage or even a restaurant makeover — just take it and run with it. While it was sad to see the old restaurant taken apart and rebuilt, the end product is great.”

In every way, Irvine and his crew did their job. Mamma D’s is now, per Irvine, a restaurant of “simple elegance, with rustic Italian feel,” housing a modern and sleek wine store.  And sales are up 50% since change.

Last Wednesday, a party of over 125 friends, family, satisfied “returnees” and excited new-comers gathered at Mamma D’s to celebrate the world premiere of the “Mamma D’s” episode. And what a party it was! Scott Fisher, owner of the Fisher’s Ace Hardware in Plumsteadville, where Irvine’s design crew got the paint needed to re-do the restaurant’s walls, and his wife Donna, two regulars at Mamma D’s, were extremely content with the changes: “It is a nice and fresh update, and very exciting for the hard-working, dedicated owners and staff. Mamma D’s went from farm-like and cozy to warm and up-scale, with European accents. We all love the changes, and will remain regulars here!” The standing room-only crowd at the premiere event buzzed when the show came on. But the food made them rave more. Danielle Heidenreich, a newbie Mamma D’s fan who learned about the show’s feature on the Food Network via the Intelligencer, praised the Panzanella salad and the godly tiramisu. She noted that the ambiance matches the food perfectly, as they are both “elite and up-scale, yet cozy and homey at the same time.”

I sampled the creamy Leek and Fennel Soup, the crespelle (thin, crispy crepes with creamy spinach-ricotta filling with a roasted red pepper sauce) and the traditional Chicken Parmigiana  – all of which were extremely hearty and delicious.

So take the time to head out to Mamma D’s to experience, first-hand, the powerful and life-changing shifts the restaurant has undergone. But, trust me, once you step in, you won’t want to leave!

Be sure to tune in on the Food Network on November 30 at 10pm and December 7 at 9pm for re-run airings of Restaurant: Impossible, Mamma D’s style!

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