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'Restaurant: Impossible' helps Canton South eatery

By admin Published: August 20, 2011

Two hundred lucky diners will be sitting down to a meal in the newly redesigned Heritage Room restaurant at Canton South High School this evening with the chance to be on national television.

The restaurant was selected for a makeover by the Food Network show Restaurant: Impossible.

The show's host, chef Robert Irvine, and a team of designers have been at the school since Thursday and have $10,000 to spend to give the restaurant a facelift. It reopens this evening with three dinner seatings to reveal its new format and menu.

The show is expected to air sometime in December and includes a visit by students to the kitchen of Canton's legendary Bender's Tavern.

School officials sent in the name of the student-run restaurant for consideration for the show. The restaurant houses the Canton South Culinary Arts Program.

On Restaurant: Impossible, Irvine attempts to keep restaurants from failing by conducting an assessment of the business, determining weak spots and making an improvement plan, which can include retraining the staff, making changes to its appearance and creating a new menu.

Lauren Mueller, public relations director for Food Network, said each restaurant on the show receives the same budget and two-day timeline. But this is the first time Food Network has selected a school restaurant for the show.

According to Marc Summers, executive producer of Restaurant: Impossible, the school applied ''somewhat out of desperation to improve the school restaurant as they aim to help students with the gift of knowledge.''

He said the school uses funds from restaurant sales to buy supplies and pay for repairs of outdated equipment. ''Thirty-five years ago, this was the cafeteria. The culinary program took over the space, but none of the equipment has been updated. Ovens can no longer be calibrated and parts are very difficult to find, many of which are no longer available. They hope, by fixing the restaurant, more people will want to attend and they can make more money to solve some of these issues,'' Summers stated in an email.

Improving a school restaurant appealed to the show's producers on two levels, Summers stated. ''We were looking for a good holiday episode for December with people who we felt were deserving and Robert has tremendous passion for kids who want to learn the culinary arts,'' he said.

The school, at 600 Faircrest St. SE., had been accepting reservations for tonight's reveal dinner on its web site for the past several weeks. All of them have been taken.

Education is what Irvine sought out for the students Friday night at Bender's in downtown Canton. Next year, the restaurant, owned by Jerry Jacob, will celebrate its 110th year in the city.

Irvine, six students and a film crew visited Bender's for about two hours before the dinner rush, soaking in the operation led by general manager Jon Jacob and chef Carl Falcone. Everything from knife-skills to cooking up a dish was demonstrated by the Bender's staff.

''[Irvine's] whole take on it was he really wanted to really show these kids what a real kitchen is,'' Jon Jacob said Friday night. ''Because I think what they have over [at Canton South], they're really rebuilding from scratch.''

Summers visited Bender's on Thursday and toured the restaurant after eating dinner. The return on Friday was surprising and flattering to Bender's staff. Summers made the arrangement hours before the students' arrival.

''We never expected that he would want to come back here the next day. But they called the next day and said, 'You guys have been in business for almost 110 years, so you must be doing something right,''' Jacob said. ''It was a lot of fun. I think the staff loved it.''

Irvine was scheduled to be at the Canton Farmers Market today to promote the effort.

Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at



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