The salad was useless, the Top Gun hamburger overcooked and had no seasoning.
Chef Robert Irvine sat with several dishes from Greenville’s Runway Cafe in front of him and pronounced them inedible.
“I’m honestly disgusted,” he said.
The owners of the restaurant at Greenville Downtown Airport had waited for four years to hear from the host of the television program “Restaurant Impossible,” and they were getting an earful.
Service was slow. Children bawled and ran around. And the decor! Dozens of photos of airplanes on the wall, model airplanes hanging from the ceiling. Pictures of planes glued to tabletops and lacquered over.
Irvine’s disdain was apparent in a place he called the most unusual ever featured on the show.
But one of his biggest concerns was whether the owners, Mike Bliss and Lem Winesett, had the commitment to keep going after 12 years of not taking a salary and just barely keeping the restaurant open. They told him they survived because their wives were teachers.
Irvine sent the owners and their wives home to think about whether they could resurrect the passion they had when they started the business as the crew took everything out of the restaurant to begin the redesign.
They returned the next day to say they were in. They wanted a fresh start.
Bliss started Runway Cafe on what was once part of the apron at Greenville Downtown Airport after owning a cafe in a bookstore that closed. He brought on his college pal, Winesett, who had been in home renovation and plumbing.
They wanted to cater to lunchtime businessmen and people flying into South Carolina’s busiest general aviation airports, commonly known as the $100 dollar hamburger. It worked for a time.
But when a playground was built next to the restaurant their clientele changed to families with children.
“You can only get so much from a children’s meal,” Bliss said on the show.
Irvine’s fix? Assemble box lunches to keep children on the playground and for those who do come in offer them something immediate to eat such as cheese bread.
He also taught them to make three inexpensive meals that would bring in big profit — steak, fried fish with peas and grits, and a chicken sandwich with pickled onions and cucumber.
He suggested they serve dinner and predicted they could make $100,000 each on sales of $500,000 quickly as they became a million-dollar business.
“Within a month, this will be profitable,” Irvine said.
Meanwhile, the designers created a restaurant that looked like a control tower with a huge radar as well as diagrams of airplanes, facing the windows that overlook airport operations.
The guests invited in for the reveal were complimentary.
“Amazing,” one said.
On Facebook, the restaurant said, “We are so grateful for the experience. We will always be learning but they provided a road map.”
Since the episode was filmed last October Bliss has left the business to spend more time with his family. Winesett said he is committed to growing the business and announced dinner service would begin this week.
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