Aponte’s Pizzeria received national attention and a $10,000 celebrity makeover when the Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible” came to town this summer.
Owners Tony and Sommer Aponte hoped the national exposure would give their pizzeria the boost it needed to overcome years of slumping sales.
Now, three months after their episode aired, the Apontes say it wasn’t enough for the struggling eatery.
“I’ve had to cut back, and I still have a situation with the IRS. I’ve just let two people go,” said Tony. “I will keep the doors open until my luck runs out.”
- Video: Celebrity chef Robert Irvine in Mason
- Photos: Aponte’s Pizzeria gets “Restaurant: Impossible” makeover
When that is, Tony can’t say. Business is at an all-time low with sales down 30 percent over last year, and he still owes the IRS back taxes of about $100,000, he said.
“The hype has died down and people have seen the inside and tried the new menu,” said Sommer. “Most of our business is on Friday and Saturday nights, but Friday and Saturday doesn’t pay the bills.”
Aponte’s decline began in 2011 when the restaurant moved into its new and larger location at 312 Reading Road. Sales plummeted as the restaurant struggled to keep up with higher overhead, said Tony.
The New Jersey native hoped to reverse the downward spiral with a high-profile renovation and menu from the cable TV show.
The show, now in its seventh season, features down-on-their-luck business owners. Celebrity chef Robert Irvine and his team of designers then have two days and a $10,000 budget to whip their restaurants into shape.
Sommer said she and an employee applied for the show because they thought sparks would fly between the fiery restaurateur and Irvine, a brash and brawny British chef known for smashing walls with a sledgehammer and dispensing tough love to business owners.
After a year with no response, the Apontes assumed they hadn’t made the cut. Then came a phone call in March.
Taping, which took place June 12-13, attracted hundreds of eager spectators, who crowded the restaurant on the night of the taped unveiling.
Under a contract signed by every featured restaurant, the Apontes agreed to give up full control of their restaurant and stick to any new changes for several months – not an easy task for a restaurateur Irvine called “one of the most stubborn owners” he’d ever met.
“The reality is, you’ve got no choice whether you like what Robert Irvine has to say or not. You’re locked in,” said Tony.
When Irvine visited Aponte’s, the restaurant was $250,000 in debt. The chef said the decor was dingy and dated and criticized the food as bland and uninspired.