Food Network's reality TV show "Restaurant: Impossible" has made business possible once again for a previously struggling Daly City restaurant, according to the owners of the historic Estrada's Fine Mexican and Caribbean Cuisine.
Business has increased by at least 50 percent since Estrada's, located at 7740 Mission St., appeared in the Feb. 5 episode of "Restaurant: Impossible," in which celebrity chef Robert Irvine and a team of helpers provided a complete makeover of the restaurant in two days, owner Julio Mercedes said. In fact, Mercedes and his girlfriend Bernadette Aggen, a managing partner of the nearly century-old restaurant, are experiencing what they called "growing pains" as they grapple with their newfound business and fame.
"We're so busy; it's a change from before," Aggen said. "We're not used to having this workload."
Aggen, who had periods of high emotion during the episode, believes her vulnerability struck a chord with the audience. She said she's received a tremendous amount of support from viewers and customers all over the U.S., including one woman who flew with her husband, a pilot, from Chicago just to visit Estrada's and meet Aggen and Mercedes.
It was Aggen's genuine plea for help at the end of September that landed Estrada's on the show and in the national spotlight.
"I wrote a letter to the Food Network crying, pouring my heart out," Aggen said. "We had watched the show before, and we thought we might be a good candidate."
Mercedes, a promoter, purchased the then-failing restaurant in 2008.
"I thought it was going to be an easy thing," Mercedes said. He quickly learned, however, that owning a restaurant was much more difficult than he had anticipated.
Two years later Mercedes met Aggen, who had just moved to the Bay Area from Las Vegas and stopped inside for a meal.
"There was nobody here and we started talking," Aggen said. "We talked for hours. It was just like magic."
Aggen admitted she and Mercedes have different management styles, and that's partially why the restaurant chewed up around $400,000 of savings, prompting Aggen to reach out to "Restaurant: Impossible."
The day after sending the letter to Food Network, Aggen was rushed to the hospital where she underwent emergency surgery. When she finally turned her phone on she had five missed calls from the Food Network.
Less than two months later, Irvine and the rest of the crew came to Estrada's in November to film the episode. Hundreds of volunteers from the community reached out to help, and the owners were encouraged by the support.
"Everything in the restaurant has a story, everything was done with love," she said.
At first, Mercedes said he was skeptical of the experience, but now that it's over he and Aggen couldn't be more grateful.
"They give you a second shot, a second chance," Mercedes said. "It's a lot easier to pay the bills now."
Not only has business improved, the restaurant has nearly doubled its staff, from nine employees before the show aired to 17 as of this month.
Teresa Proaño, a lifelong Daly City resident who lives within walking distance of Estrada's, said she has noticed improvements in the restaurant.
"The food has gotten more focused," Proaño said. "The place reflects who they are now. It was a good wake-up call for Robert to come in."
Ian Ratzer, a San Francisco resident who visited Estrada's before and after the makeover, said he sees a difference as well.
"It all makes a bit more sense now," Ratzer said. "I remember thinking that a lot of the right elements were there, but they weren't put together in the right way."
Aggen and Mercedes said their relationship is now stronger than ever.
"It was difficult to put ourselves out there, but worth it," Aggen said. "It chokes me up just to think about it. It was an amazing experience."