Fruita restaurateur learns lessons from makeover show

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Ginny Sullivan, left, owner of Sullivan’s Grill, talks with Season Buniger, assistant manager, about their experiences appearing in “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network. The interior decor and menu of the Fruita restaurant were revamped during filming for the show in October. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Ginny Sullivan learned some lessons about the restaurant business during her appearance on a television makeover show.

For one thing, Sullivan now realizes she doesn’t have to keep her Fruita restaurant open for such long hours to bring in customers. Good food and service will take care of that. “They will come when you’re open,” she said.

Shorter operating hours, new decor and a revamped menu — not to mention the national exposure — have positioned Sullivan’s Grill to perform more profitably, Sullivan said. “It will be good for us.”

The changes also should make the restaurant more attractive now that Sullivan plans to sell the operation.

Sullivan’s Grill was featured in a recent episode of “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network. The series features celebrity chef Robert Irvine, who helps struggling restaurants stave off closure with a two-day makeover and a budget of just $10,000.

The episode was filmed in early October and aired for the first time in early January. Sullivan said she applied twice to appear on the show, once after her husband, Jesse, committed suicide.

Susan Buniger, an assistant manager at the restaurant, said she was thrilled when Sullivan was notified she’d be on the show given the hardships she’s faced. “I was so overwhelmingly  happy for her.”

Sullivan, Buniger and other restaurant employees who appeared on the show participated in a news conference to share a behind-the-scenes look back at their experiences.

Sullivan said she was pleased with  the way the episode turned out, although filming was hectic and at times “surreal.”

“It was really cool. It was really fun. We had a blast,” she said.

The interior decor of the restaurant was changed with new carpeting, seating and paint. Sullivan wasn’t allowed to see the changes until they were complete so the reveal was real, she said. “It was completely intense.”

Volunteers from the Fruita area pitched in to help, so many that some had to be turned away. “They were amazing,” Sullivan said.

Irvine also worked with Sullivan and her employees to revamp the menu and suggested she continue tweaking the menu to keep those items that are popular and switch out the items that aren’t.

While Irvine has a reputation for dishing out criticism on the show, Sullivan said she was prepared for an honest appraisal. Moreover, she said she suspects Irvine was less harsh than usual because of her struggles as a single mother raising two teen-agers and running a restaurant.

Sullivan said business has improved since the makeover and that October was one of the best months ever for sales. But after more than four years of restaurant ownership, she said she’s decided to sell the operation.