SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The diner still has its signature horseshoe-shaped bar tables, but there’s a new energy since it was overhauled by a reality TV show.
The Food Network reality TV series “Restaurant: Impossible” took over the Mill Creek neighborhood this week to give iconic local diner Uncle Andy’s an extreme $10,000 two-day makeover.
The Fogg family, which has owned Uncle Andy’s on Ocean Street for 10 years, announced last month its aging diner was selected for the show. Despite a loyal local following, Tina and Dennis Fogg worked nights to keep their struggling business afloat.
The Food Network crew started filming and remodeling the restaurant Tuesday. With the help of local businesses and volunteers, they worked for 36 hours to renovate the diner for a grand reopening Wednesday night.
The end product was a shocker: Their previously open kitchen is partially sealed off, with a brown window panel separating food prep from customers. But it looks like Dennis Fogg will still be able to make his specialty animal pancakes in front of an audience.
The old booths were replaced with sleek tables and chairs. Muted chartreuse paint and a simple tile frame reading “ANDY’S” replaced the diner’s outdated wall decor.
No major changes were made to the outside of the building; the sign and windows are the same.
The new menu still features breakfast and lunch, but better quality dishes with “Restaurant: Impossible” host Robert Irvine’s expert touch will cater to more foodies willing to pay a slightly higher price tag.
Irvine said Tuesday that fixing up Uncle Andy’s presented a unique dilemma.
“The toughest thing is to change a small-town, iconic restaurant that has failed — drastically failed — after being built in 1954 [and continuing on] to present day,” he explained. “[It’s a challenge] to change the interior to make it an iconic restaurant for 2014 onward.”
But, he said firmly, “I never fail.”
About 20 people looked on as Irvine doled out some tough love on the diner’s failure to an emotional Fogg family Tuesday.
Ron Kramer, a frequent customer of Uncle Andy’s and South Portland resident, was one of the onlookers. He said the Foggs were a very nice family, but the food could use improvement.
“It can’t get much worse, and that’s fact,” he said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for them to turn it around and draw in a broader crowd, like from Portland and Cape Elizabeth.”
Paul G. White flooring, O’Shea Builders, and Miles Vaughan, owner of Biddeford-based electronics company Digital Sky, were among several local businesses that volunteered at Uncle Andy’s throughout the two-day construction.
Vaughan said while the building was being remodeled that it was “a mess in there.”
His crew donated a $20,000 customized point of service system that would program the diner’s new menu into tablets so servers can communicate with cooks, eliminating the diner’s handwritten ticket system.
By Wednesday evening, more than 150 onlookers stood across the street for Uncle Andy’s big reveal.
The Fogg family and Irvine filmed one final scene outside the diner before they moved inside to show the remodel and prepare service for the few dozen pre-selected people with reservations.
The full details of what took place inside the restaurant during filming will likely remain secret until the episode airs later this summer or in the fall.
But Pat Crockett, who frequents Uncle Andy’s and has lived in South Portland for more than 40 years, was not worried about big changes to the iconic spot.
No matter what they change about it, she said, “It’s the customers that make Uncle Andy’s great. You go in there, you see your mailman, you know everybody.”