See the episode on Food Network on Thursday, Jan. 16, at 9 p.m.
It was back in October when celebrity chef Robert Irvine and his "Restaurant Impossible" team arrived at Perella's Ristorante to tell Louie Perella he was stuck in the past and had to modernize.
This week, Food Network viewers can tune in to the episode, titled “Old Habits Die Hard,” and see all of the 25-year-old Warren restaurant's remake in living color.
The show features struggling restaurants from around the country. Irvine and staff attempt to help owners turn things around.
"At the beginning, I really wanted to throw him out," Perella said of chef Irvine. "He beats the hell out of you."
No more could he have a four-page menu. Eight dinner entrees are enough, Irvine told him. No spaghetti and meatballs and no large portions.
And that Sistine Chapel-inspired mural Perella was so proud of, it's just gone, even though he asked Irvine not to get rid of it.
"That made me so sad," Perella said. "But by the end, I believed he was sincere about wanting the restaurant to succeed."
"And the restaurant does look nice, brighter and more modern," he added during an interview that showed Perella to be good-natured, level-headed and just a bit amused by reality television.
One can't even say that Perella invited this upon himself. He didn't. His son, Lou Perella, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and sous chef at Providence's Capital Grille, did.
It all started two years ago, when the young Perella and his bride, a pastry chef, returned home to Rhode Island after stints cooking for Danny Meyers in New York and jobs in Australia and Texas. Lou knew the family restaurant needed a makeover if he was to join the business, but Dad wasn't willing to pay for it. Lou submitted an application to Food Network. But "Restaurant Impossible" was off the air by then, after a run from 2011 to 2016.
Last fall, the newly resurrected show found Lou's application as they were booking a new season. They called the Perellas and said they were coming. The Italian restaurant would get a two-day, $10,000 makeover with a new menu and renovations.
But things had changed. By now, the younger chef was at Capital Grille and no longer planning to take over the family business. But that was the plot Irvine's team would pursue for the episode, real or not.
Louie Perella said that during filming at the restaurant, at 311 Metacom Ave., Irvine painted a picture showing that he might lose his restaurant. That is not a real thing either, Perella said. Yes, they make 80 meals on a weekend night when they used to make 150 in the day. But the chef/owner had adjusted and made it work.
Irvine also had Lou Perella in the wings, teasing the father that if he fixed the restaurant, his son would work with him. Also not a real thing, said Dad. His son is happy, and has benefits for his young family, working at Capital Grille.
As for other bones of contention, Irvine said calamari had to come off the menu. Perella told him it was Rhode Island's official appetizer.
Irvine also created dishes without pasta, saying it was a different time and people eat differently now. He took Perella to Eli's Kitchen, also in Warren, to see how other restaurants operate today.
"He told me everything I’ve done for 20 years was wrong. I told him, 'You’ve been in Rhode Island for an hour and you’re telling me how to run my business.'"
But if Perella had issues with Irvine, he has nothing but admiration for designer Taniya Nayak. He said he was busy when she arrived to chat about his vision for the restaurant. He could only give her two minutes, and yet she incorporated the three things he's wanted since he opened.
When he bought the restaurant 25 years ago, he had just sold his home in San Diego. But the sale fell through and he ended up paying for his house and for the new restaurant. He ran out of money fixing up the restaurant in Warren.
Perella told Nayak he always wanted a tin ceiling, wine racks and marble-topped tables.
She gave him all three, including wine racks that light up at night, and a new floor.
When it was time to reveal the new menu during the filming, Irvine wouldn't let any regulars dine at Perella's. He wanted fresh eyes on the menu, which now featured Strip Steak with fingerling potatoes and Romanesco sauce; Confit Chicken Thighs Parmesan with polenta, rabe and sautéed cherry tomatoes, Fish and Chips and Veal Chop Marsala. Entree prices range from $14 to $29.
Perella has enjoyed learning to make the new dishes, and is happy that some diners like them.
"No one has complained about the new food," he said. But his regulars miss the old dishes.
Irvine told Perella that he can bring back some of his signature dishes as specials or add them to the menu. He hasn't yet, but plans to do just that. Perella still believes in his restaurant's niche as a home-style, neighborhood place and that means comfort dishes.
Will the changes remain? Will diners support Perella's?
“Time will tell,” he said.
And if you've ever wondered if the producers tell the "actors" in reality shows what to say, they do, said Perella. See if you can recognize the fed lines when you watch "Restaurant Impossible" on Food Network on Thursday, Jan. 16, at 9 p.m., with repeat airings on Friday, Jan. 17, at midnight and Saturday, Jan. 25, at 5 p.m.