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‘Impossible’ happens as Filomena’s restaurant in Costa Mesa gets a Food Network makeover

‘Impossible’ happens as Filomena’s restaurant in Costa Mesa gets a Food Network makeover
“Restaurant: Impossible” host Robert Irvine, left, stands with Linda and Kent Johnsen, owners of Filomena’s Italian Kitchen & Market in Costa Mesa, after the Food Network show revamped the Newport Boulevard restaurant. (Courtesy of Filomena’s Italian Kitchen & Market)

It didn’t always go smoothly on camera, but a Costa Mesa restaurant hopes its appearance on the Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible” will hold great possibilities for its future.

Filomena’s Italian Kitchen & Market at 2400 Newport Blvd. opened about seven years ago. Though the Eastside neighborhood hangout has had some success, it hasn’t been bringing big paydays to Linda Johnsen, who owns it with her husband, Kent.

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In an interview with the Daily Pilot, Johnsen said she had been contacted by the Food Network for years about several shows. Nothing connected, however, until “Restaurant: Impossible,” a series that attempts to revive struggling restaurants using 48 hours and $10,000.

Filming took place in February. The episode, dubbed “Fight at Filomena’s,” premiered April 27.

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On the show, host Robert Irvine, an English chef, visits Filomena’s and sees little wrong, at least on the surface. He finds the restaurant’s market side charming and well-designed and the kitchen staff effective.

But he soon pinpoints what he sees as the problem: Johnsen, Filomena’s chef. He is critical of most of her food and her lack of knowledge of the specifics of Filomena’s financial struggles.

Johnsen doesn’t take Irvine’s criticism lightly, which leads to a series of heated, sometimes screaming, arguments between the two.

Irvine then brings in his design staff, which dramatically revamps the dining area with a bright, rustic touch. He also removes the small corner bar and adds some new menu items.

The show ends on a positive note, with Johnsen and her family ecstatic with the makeover.

Filomena’s Italian Kitchen & Market is pictured after its 48-hour renovation by the Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible.”
Filomena’s Italian Kitchen & Market is pictured after its 48-hour renovation by the Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible.” (Courtesy of Filomena’s Italian Kitchen & Market)
Filomena’s is pictured before “Restaurant: Impossible” revamped the dining area.
Filomena’s is pictured before “Restaurant: Impossible” revamped the dining area. (Courtesy of Filomena’s Italian Kitchen & Market)

The conflict the cameras captured during the episode was real, Johnsen said.

“It was difficult. I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “It was emotional.”

Johnsen said part of the emotion was in talking to Irvine about her difficult relationship with her stepmother. She also became emotional when, during filming, she was reconnected with her sister, whom she hadn’t spoken to in years. Also, her daughter, a fellow restaurateur, was flown in from Northern California.

Johnsen said the public reaction to the “Restaurant: Impossible” changes has been mostly positive, aside from some remarks on social media.

As for the future, Johnsen said Irvine has talked of mass-producing Filomena’s lasagna, one of the dishes he said he liked. She’s working on a cookbook and a YouTube channel and wants to do more television.

“I want to show people what I have,” Johnsen said.

Bradley Zint is a contributor to Times Community News.

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