Two months ago, the Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible AMBUSH” took over a Holly Springs bistro and gave it a top-to-bottom makeover.
While visitors to SiP Bistro, a wine bar, coffeehouse and eatery off Bass Lake Road, have been able to see the results, the rest of the country can see how it all happened when the episode airs Wednesday, April 13, at 10 p.m.
Chef Robert Irvine and crews with the popular reality show, which revamps struggling restaurants, surprised owners Justin and Sarah Hummell in February. Crews had two days and $10,000 to update the restaurant’s decor, menu and more.
Tents and trucks were lined up in the parking lot, windows were blacked out, and volunteers worked tirelessly to meet the deadline.
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The Hummells weren’t allowed to be interviewed during the filming, and they can’t talk about the experience until five days after the show airs. But restaurant-goers report a significant change.
Customers who visited SiP Bistro before the makeover described it as having an inviting atmosphere but with a limited menu and sparse decor. It was praised for its coffee, wine selection, sandwiches and other light food offerings.
“Sarah just really knows food,” Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears said. “She knows wine. She knows coffee. She just really knows how to take care of the customer.”
Sears stood in line in freezing February weather for almost an hour the night SiP Bistro reopened its doors to get a first look at the renewed establishment.
These positive attributes of SiP Bistro did not change, Sears said. The restaurant still has lighter food offerings, plenty of quality coffee, and Sarah Hummell offers wine suggestions to anyone who asks.
But the decor has been upgraded significantly, creating a more elegant, sophisticated and homey atmosphere, Holly Springs resident Bill Rousseau said.
“That’s how SiP translates to me,” he said. “It’s almost like an extension of your home, an extension of your living room ... It’s more like going to a friend’s home rather than going to a commercial place.”
“Restaurant: Impossible” has been on the air for 12 seasons so far. In recent seasons, producers switched to an “ambush” format, where the owners don’t know in advance that they’ll get an extreme makeover.
Secrecy surrounded the production from the time producers asked for local volunteers to help with the transformation to the hours before the owners saw the completed restaurant. The restaurant chosen for the episode wasn’t revealed publicly, though Irvine and others let the word out through social media.
Employees or family members tip off producers to a restaurant that may need help, and staff is sent to try food and get a feel for the restaurant, Marc Summers, the show’s executive producer, said in February.
Unlike many restaurants featured on the show, SiP Bistro’s owners already had plenty of restaurant experience under their belts, Summers said. The Hummells previously operated a coffeehouse in Winston-Salem called Cafe Roche Espresso Bar.
“The big problem with this restaurant that we found out is there is an identity problem,” he said. “What is it? Is it a coffee bar? Is it a wine bar? Does it serve food? What kind of food? We try and give these things an identity.”
Summers said then that the restaurant sometimes struggled with customer service, where it might take 45 minutes for a sandwich to be made.
After the makeover, customers like Rosseau, who always loved SiP Bistro, said the bistro’s new decor makes it an even better place to visit, whether you are having a cup of coffee and getting some work done or catching up over a glass of wine with friends.
“It’s just a nice place to go to and a nice place to bring people to show off our town,” he said. “It’s not just another Starbucks nor is it a Starbucks wannabe. It’s got its own unique identity.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon
“Restaurant: Impossible” airs Wednesday, April 13, at 10 p.m. on the Food Network.