Abudanza experience sticks with 'Restaurant: Impossible' host Robert Irvine

Date: 9/18/2014

WILBRAHAM – Chef Robert Irvine thought he had faced pretty much any kind of challenge a failing dining establishment could throw at him in the making of his Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible.

Then he met the Maravilha family.

The "Restaurant: Impossible" crew, supported by a host of volunteers, gathered at Abudanza Ristorante on Boston Road in July in the hopes of saving the failing business behind the guidance of Irvine, who admitted it was one of the hardest shows he’s ever done.

“This is going to be a one of a kind show, and I mean that,” Irvine told Reminder Publications. “It’s the first time I’ve ever wept at the close of a show. It was very moving. This was a very tough show.”

“Restaurant: Impossible” takes on the task of saving failing restaurants through sweeping changes with a time constraint of two days and a budget of just $10,000. The Abudanza episode, entitled “An Abundance of Emotions,” will air on Oct. 13 at 10 p.m.

Abudanza has struggled in recent years after moving from the “X” in Springfield to the Wilbraham Shops in 2010.

It’s a hard task and each situation is different, Irvine said, but circumstances surrounding Abudanza and the Maravilhas were infinitely more challenging.

“[Chef] Lou [Maravilha] and his wife June, who own the restaurant were on the verge of divorce, family breakup and arguing, but there was one other aspect I don’t normally deal with,” Irvine said. “That’s their son, who is one of 78 people in the world who has a rare genetic disease. He’s dying and there is no cure.”

LJ Maravilha suffers from rapid-onset obesity with hypothalamic dysregulation, hypoventilation, and autonomic dysregulation, a syndrome that results in rapid weight gain and has a 100 percent mortality rate.

Irvine explained the 11-year-old boy is five feet, four inches tall, and 370 pounds. Recently, he added, the family decided to remove a tracheal tube and is now in hospice care.

“They removed the tube because they wanted him to be able to have some kind of life before passing on,” Irvine said.

It was a surprising revelation for Irvine, who said he opts to know nothing about his subjects prior to his visit.

“For myself and my team, who take changing people’s lives very seriously, his story was so touching. His mom and dad are trying to save the family, the business and on top of that, they care for a boy who actually dies every night and wakes himself up,” Irvine said. “I’ve got to tell you as the father of two girls, to see the pain in both of their faces, as they face a failing business, a troublesome marriage because of the strain of the restaurant and the strain of a sick son, it was very difficult.”

Compounding the issues for the Maravilhas was an unwelcome letter just prior to Irvine’s visit  – a foreclosure notice on their Ludlow home. With the family’s future in serious jeopardy, Irvine and his crew decided to go a step beyond improving the restaurant.

“I was moved so much by this family that the show and myself, out of my own pocket and out of the show’s pocket, outside of the budget for the show, paid an amount of money to pay off the mortgage in arrears so they could stay in the house,” he said. “I could not let them be evicted.”

Abudanza has since reopened and Irvine said he is confident that the work done, which ranges from menu changes, to staffing, to décor, will help the restaurant survive.

"The last three years, we’ve been 87 percent successful,” he said. “What we do is we offer people real solutions. There’s no script; there’s no fakery, no trickery. It’s real life. It is what it is.”

More than that, he said, he was able to establish a relationship with the family that will also endure.

“I keep in contact with every one of those families myself. I invest in and try to become part of those families,” he said. “If you had told me I would do that three years ago, I would have laughed at you, but here I am now with more than 130 families that I am responsible for, whose birthdays and anniversaries I remember. You could ask any of those families and they would tell you it’s not about the show for me; it’s about those people.”

In addition to support offered from the show, Nick Maravilha, LJ’s brother and manager at Abudanza, has started a GoFundMe page in order to raise money for a specialty bathroom, bedroom, wheelchair lift, and medical equipment in order to make his brother’s final days as comfortable as possible.

For more information on the fundraising campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/ROHHAD.

To learn more about Irvine and “Restaurant: Impossible,” visit www.foodnetwork.com/shows/restaurant-impossible.html.