Robert Irvine Exclusive: No One Expects an Ambush

Hear from Robert as he previews the brand-new season of Restaurant: Impossible Ambush.

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Robert Irvine

For the past 11 seasons of  Restaurant: Impossible, Robert Irvine has given seemingly hopeless restaurateurs second chances at success, completing dream transformations, both within the four walls of the eateries and beyond, as he's worked with owners to evolve their business savvy. On the brand-new season of Restaurant: Impossible Ambush, he'll do all of that again — but this time, the owners don't know he's coming.

Premiering Thursday, Oct. 22 at 9|8c, Restaurant: Impossible Ambush will show what happens when Robert and his team drop by unannounced, all set to take over an unsuspecting owner's business, and what results simply cannot be anticipated. From pure elation to downright dissatisfaction, the reactions to Robert's impromptu renovations are as variable as the issues plaguing the failing eateries. If you thought that owners were shocked — and perhaps a bit annoyed — by Robert's advice even when they requested it, imagine what might ensue when he shows up without an invitation.

Just in time for this month's premiere, Robert gave FN Dish an insider's look at what's ahead on Ambush. Read on below for an exclusive interview with the host and find out what he wants to say to the stubborn owners he's met along the way.

What can fans expect from the Ambush renovations? How are these episodes different than past Restaurant: Impossible shows?

Robert Irvine: Crazy! For 11 seasons [of] Restaurant: Impossible, the viewers knew that the guests, or the people I was going to help, knew I was coming. I was the only one that didn’t know where I was going. Season 12 Ambush, let me tell you, they have no idea I’m coming, and I have no idea where I’m going. And what happens when I walk in the door truly is up to them: how they react, how I speak to them, how they lose their cool. And do they want me there? That’s the big question. ... I’ve got to tell you, it’s not like any other Restaurant: Impossible we have ever, ever done. It’s exciting. It is gripping. It’s chilling. It’s nail-biting. And you’ll never know what’s going to happen, 'cause every turn is something different.

How does the process of renovation change with ambush-style transformations? Your team can't set up before your arrival, right?

RI: So here’s how this goes. Unlike before, where we’d have a [prep] day, where the teams would come in and set up tents and do B-roll shots and everything else, with Ambush, nobody can show up until I walk through the door, which means we have between 12 and 17 vehicles in a convoy that follow me early in the morning. We have a resting place, or a parking place, where we can congregate, figure out what’s next. We normally have some type of decoy in the restaurant wearing small mini cameras, or a story going on, and I run through the door, and we literally surprise them on the spot, and then we have to figure out: How do we change the restaurant? Where do we purchase the product? Can we set up the tents? Can we get the generators? Can we find the product we need to do the job? And ... oh, by the way, do they really want us there?

Fans saw your first ambush transformation in an episode last season. What did you learn from that experience that you're bringing with you to these new episodes?

RI: You know, the experience of doing the first ambush with Denny, who by the way is doing amazing now, really doesn’t mean anything, because each ambush is so different — the location, the people, the type of restaurant. And it literally — minute by minute — changes. One minute they’re all happy to see you. Then the next minute when you tell them that something’s wrong, then there’s crying, anger, shouting, screaming. So it literally changes second by second, [which is] something the viewer’s going to love, because I love it.

How would you define a failing restaurant versus one that's just struggling or having a hard time?

RI: Those that are not making money, those that are not leading their people, those that have not had enough capital investment to begin with and those that have no right, rhyme or reason to be in the restaurant business fail because they don’t have the knowledge to run a restaurant. They don’t have the financial backing or enough money in the bank, and they don’t understand people. Most people get into the restaurant business because they think it’s easy. And the biggest failing restaurant group in the United States is actually Italian, because, you know, their mom tells them they can make gravy or sauce, depending on where you come from, they’re great with people, and they should open a restaurant. And for the first six months, it’s great, because we invite all our friends. Then they realize the bills are mounting up, and [they're] not making any money, and [they're] in trouble, and they fail.

In the past, some restaurateurs have been (very) hesitant to let you transform their businesses and fought you every step of the way. What would you like to say to those who are stubborn or resistant to change?

RI: You can have an opinion and be stubborn, but if you follow the plan that’s set out in place for you, by me, you will succeed. And we know that because we are 73 or 74 or even more percent successful in this show so far.

Any words of advice for business owners for if and when you show up on their doorsteps?

RI: And for those of you that think you know what you’re doing, and then suddenly realize you don’t, here’s my warning. Restaurant owners of America, watch out. You never know when Robert Irvine will show up at the door and say, “You’re ambushed.”

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