Impossibilities abound: South Portland restaurant pins hope on reality-TV makeover
SOUTH PORTLAND — A Food Network reality TV series is coming to Ocean Street next month to try to invigorate the aging Uncle Andy's Diner.
On June 9, "Restaurant: Impossible" host Robert Irvine and crew will take over the 60-year-old diner from owners Dennis and Tina Fogg for a 36-hour, $10,000 marathon restaurant rescue mission before a grand re-opening June 11.
The breakfast-and-lunch diner staff, menu and aesthetic will get an extreme makeover – as well as some tough love – for an episode to be aired later this year.
Led by former White House chef and reality cooking show veteran Irvine, the popular series recently aired its 100th episode and wrapped up its sixth season.
Dennis Fogg on Tuesday said he and his wife, who have owned the diner for a decade, learned of their selection last week after their four adult children submitted an application two months ago. As avid fans of the show, they are nervous and excited for Irvine's arrival.
"I’m ready to hear what (Irvine) has to say," he said.
Seth Hyman, a spokesman for Food Network in New York, would neither confirm nor deny the upcoming taping.
The diner was a promising business when the Foggs bought the place, and Fogg said Uncle Andy's still has a solid group of regular customers. But he said the business – which in its heyday included a popular bakery – "really took a beating" during the city's infrastructure project in Knightville, and has been slow to recover.
"It's gorgeous now (outside), it paid off, but we had to live through three years of dust, noise, construction and no parking," he said, noting that they briefly considered selling the diner last year. "Over the years, things have changed, and we thought ("Restaurant: Impossible") would be a great way to revitalize."
Throughout their ownership of Uncle Andy's, the Foggs have each worked second jobs at night: Tina is an Alzheimer's nurse in Falmouth, and Dennis is a stand-up comedian. Their children, whose ages range from 21 to 30, work at the restaurant on weekends for tips, which added to the diner's appeal for the show.
"It’s as much family as you’re going to get," Fogg said.
As required by the show, the Foggs must give Irvine total control to make changes to the diner. Dennis admitted their menu is basic, and said he is open to suggestions, and even to opening for dinner service.
Their only request was to keep their retro, horseshoe-shaped lunch counter in front of the open stovetop, where Dennis makes his signature pancakes, shaped like animals and cartoon characters requested by the diner's younger customers.
"We don't mind if he resurfaces (the counters), but I work right there," Fogg said. "I tell jokes, I juggle for the kids."
Culinary students from Southern Maine Community College will assist in the renovation process, and Fogg has already hired two new employees, per the show's suggestion.
The Foggs have also started taking reservations from city officials and regular customers for the diner's grand re-opening.
"It'll be one of those things where people walk in all shocked, and say 'Wow, this place used to look like crap," he joked.
The film crew will return in half a year to check on the diner's progress. For now, the Foggs will be preparing for Irvine's careful scrutiny.
"We’ve got it down to science, but the science didn’t seem to be helping us out, so we decided to open ourselves up and be ready for a change," Fogg said. "It can't hurt."