If you haven’t paid a visit to Padre Rita Grill on South Padre Island in a few months, you may not recognize it by the décor and the menu. British chef and restaurateur Robert Irvine and the crew behind the popular realty television program, “Restaurant: Impossible,” selected the nautical bar-style eatery owned by J. Michael and Cathy Laferty as one of their two-day restaurant improvement projects, which premiered Oct. 6 on the Food Network.
Michael and Cathy opened Padre Rita Grill four years ago, which would be a foundation for each of their passions to be expressed by uniting Cathy’s love of cooking and Michael’s enjoyment of singing on stage for customers.
“Our original idea was to provide an Island-flavored seafood and steak house,” said Michael.
The restaurant was underfunded when it opened and a number of missed opportunities and learning curves quickly led to their Island dream being submerged in debt. Cathy thought that if the restaurant could attain some recognition they could turn things around, and so they applied for the services of those behind “Restaurant: Impossible.” The establishment was rejected twice initially.
“But out of the blue, they decided to start looking for a location that was tropical,” said Cathy. “They looked in Florida and California and eventually here. They called us and asked if we’d be interested in doing a Restaurant: Impossible episode, and we were blown away. We thought it would be great for us to learn from someone like chef Irvine. I’ve always been a fan of their decorating team.”
After several interviews, Padre Rita Grill was selected to be the guinea pig for the episode titled, “Paradise: Impossible.” The two were mic’d throughout the process as they saw their restaurant undergo dramatic changes in appearance, management, menu selection. With a mix of problem solving and tough love, the project was a success.
The couple were not allowed to discuss the affair until five days after the show aired, which was two months later. Though there was some fabricated drama for the sake of good television the effects were very real as the national exposure and new mentality has gone over well for the Island restaurant. Cathy returned a few original items on the menu that long-time clientele favored ad this blend of professional experience and her personal touches have resulted in an improved establishment, which both regular customers and interested newcomers appreciate.
Estevan Medrano