TV magic on the menu? Palos restaurant gets Food Network makeover
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org July 19, 2012 9:06PM
Food Network restaurant interventionist Robert Irvine (right) high-fives Valley Inn co-owner Frankie Ristucci as his brother, Dennis Ristucci, another owner, looks on in Palos Hills. | Matt Marton-Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 21, 2012 6:30AM
He’s tough. He’s demanding. And he’s got a reputation for making restaurant owners repent, if not cry.
But for a short time Thursday afternoon, Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” 24-hour makeover show, dropped to do more than 20 push-ups in what appeared to be a spontaneous battle of muscle against brothers Frankie and Dennis Ristucci, owners of the Valley Inn in Palos Hills.
Although they weren’t allowed to talk to the media, citing network policy that forbids the crew from doing so until just before the show airs — which in this case won’t be for another two or three months — production workers confirmed they were at the Valley Inn to do what Irvine seems to do so well: breathe new life into a dated, unprofitable restaurant.
The Valley Inn, 8300 W. 107th St., is a family-style eatery that offers sandwiches, pizza, Italian fare and a bar. It has been run by the Ristucci family since 1973.
In keeping with the show’s format, Irvine and crew had $10,000 and two days to work their magic. Irvine arrived on the scene Wednesday.
George Schick, who lives down the street from the restaurant, said he stops in every couple of months.
“You get huge portions for a really good price,” Schick said. “I’m sure Irvine’s going to call them on that.”
The place could use some sprucing up, he said.
“The place is a little South Side funky, if you what I mean,” Schick said with a laugh.
The Valley Inn, with its cream-colored, Swiss-chalet-looking exterior walls and reddish brown trim, is said to have been around since the 1930s. A rooftop sign for Old Style beer appears to be circa 1960.
“I think it was called Twin Oaks back then,” Schick said.
Glenn Kelly, who also lives in the neighborhood, stopped by to check on the commotion.
“I love this show,” Kelly said, of “Restaurant: Impossible.” “I like the desperation; you see people on their last leg. They need help. Everybody wants a second chance, you know?”
Kelly said he also likes Irvine’s irascible, perfectionist personality.
Dressed in his traditional black polo shirt and blue jeans, Irvine took a couple of breaks from his duties overhauling the interior decor as well as the menu to come outside and greet neighbors, sign autographs and challenge the Ristuccis in a pavement duel.
“He’s tough. I’d like to see him wrestle Gordon Ramsay (of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ fame),” Kelly said. “I think Irvine would win.”
“Restaurant: Impossible” airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on the Food Network. For more information, visit foodnetwork.com