With their family-run restaurant Blue Orleans losing between $15,000 and $20,000 a month, and the prospect of closing within weeks looming over them, chef Mike Adams and Cherita Bloodwirth turned to Food Network celebrity chef Robert Irvine for help.
Irvine visited Chattanooga in December to shoot his makeover of Blue Orleans, which was featured in a 90-minute episode of "Restaurant: Impossible" on Thursday night. Irvine arrived at Blue Orleans to find Adams and Bloodwirth in the process of a divorce, their teenage children working as the restaurant staff, an understaffed kitchen, poor food and service ... and two days to turn things around.
Adams and Bloodwirth opened Blue Orleans in 2007 after leaving New Orleans due to the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina. Although located in the thriving Southside neighborhood, Blue Orleans is within a month, the couple estimates, of closing its doors due to the inconsistency of food and service. Adding to their stress is the fact the couple have had to work together for two years since she filed for divorce in 2017.
As is the show's custom, viewers hear their story from Adams and Bloodwirth's viewpoints. He says he is not a professionally trained chef, but owning a restaurant has been his dream, and that the 2009 recession hurt the business. He says he began drinking on the job and Bloodwirth had to step in and manage the restaurant. He adds he hasn't had a drink in two years.
She says the restaurant has always been his dream, not hers. The thousands they have been losing each month has been draining money from the college fund she started for their kids and that she is there under "the advice of her attorney to help turn things around." The couple can't even agree on how in debt they are; he says they owe $50,000, she says $75,000 to $80,000.
After hearing from both, Irvine watches as they serve a lunch group, noting mistakes. He then visits the kitchen and finds their 15-year-old son Dallen is more in charge than dad. Daughter Jolie is the restaurant's server, assisted when possible by her mother, who is also working as hostess. Irvine's comments show he is obviously impressed with the maturity of the teens and their work ethic.
Still, after seeing the disarray the kitchen is in, Irvine explodes.
"No wonder this restaurant is failing, because you're both failing," he tells the adults. "The 15-year-old kid is smarter than the two of you together! It's the worst service I've ever seen."
And the drama is only starting.
Bloodwirth starts to walk out, but Irvine's tough love brings her back. He tells her she's "been trying to be something she's not" and asks her to trust him.
Irvine next samples several Blue Orleans dishes and is pleasantly surprised at the flavor ("nothing is crazily bad"), rating them a 7 out of 10. He also has the couple do an exercise that shows who is carrying the majority of the work load (Bloodwirth) and Adams acknowledges this, apologizes to her and says he will quit taking her for granted.
As the first day wraps up, Irvine says, "I've never had as much emotion on Day 1 as I have with this family." He adds that not only is he going to fix a restaurant, but hopefully a family.
On Day 2, Irvine's design and build team lead crews of local volunteers in turning the outdated decor of the restaurant into "a cool, hip, downtown lounge vibe."
The concrete floor is covered in a wood-look vinyl flooring, new light fixtures installed, new tables and chairs placed and 3D wave wall panels hung. Dark curtains that previously hung as dividers between tables are taken down so the room is opened up; and glass and colored acrylic dividers installed to break up the long, rectangular space without obstructing sight lines. White curtains are hung from ceiling to floor to emphasize the ceiling's height.
Irvine shares recipe tips with Adams (put pimento cheese into grits to make them creamy), gives him advice on purchasing food and supplies, and cooks some examples of dishes that will improve the Blue Orleans menu.
The entire family is stunned by the restaurant's interior transformation and Irvine believes he's given them "a new restaurant and new hope."
He adds that they don't have to be married to be in business, but do have to respect each other.