When Elon University students were offered the opportunity to join the “Restaurant: Impossible” crew as they re-modeled University Grill, appreciation and excitement came from both ends.

Students who participated in the effort had the chance to go behind the scenes of the popular Food Network show, in which chef Robert Irvine has two days and $10,000 to transform a failing restaurant.

“I literally was watching them create a show, which is what I want to do,” said junior Julie Morse, a broadcast journalism major and a self-proclaimed addict of the series. “That’s real life studying. It was cool to see the parts they filmed and then cut together.”

[quote]This building had no identity, and the Elon students have given it an identity. -- Jodi Goren-Rode, producer of "Restaurant Impossible." [/quote]

But it wasn’t just the Elon students that were thankful for the unique opportunity. For the first time in the show’s history, the crew was able to renovate the exterior of a restaurant, thanks to the long hours put in by the students.

“By working with the university, we didn’t have to pay money to have them come help our designer (Lynn Kegan)," said Jodi Goren-Rode, the producer of “Restaurant: Impossible.” “(Kegan) didn’t have to stop what he was doing, so we could work in tandem, in unison. And look at the results.”

The result was a colorful, intricately designed mural painted on the brick wall of University Grill, which is located on West Webb Avenue. Before the transformation, which took place on Feb. 29 and March 1, the building appeared run-down and abandoned, prompting Irvine's decision to add life to the fading brick and attract people to stop and eat, according to Goren-Rode.

“This mural wall is just to me so amazing,” she said. “This building had no identity and the Elon students have given it an identity.”

The partnership between the network and the university began when Nicholas Smalarz, the associate producer of “Restaurant Impossible,” contacted Michael Fels, chair of Elon’s art department, and asked if his students would be interested in submitting designs for a mural. After the designs went through city council for approval, Fels and some of his students sketched the design onto the brick wall before beginning to paint on day two of the remodeling.

“I think they wanted to leave part of the old brick so it had a sense of the original building, but they wanted something to pop off the building,” Fels said. “The theme of the image was lively, and as you come off of Haggard, you can see it.”

But students from the art department weren't the only students who were involved in the show. Irvine also visited Professor Lee Bush's Strategic Campaigns course in the School of Communications.

Students in the class offered Irvine feedback concerning the location and menu of University Grill, which was selected out of thousands of applicants to be featured on “Restaurant Impossible,” according to Jill Littman, the supervising producer of the show. Restaurants first apply online before being called for a pre-interview and asked to send photographs. If producers determine there are enough layers to the story and there are good characters, a scout is sent to the location to determine if the restaurant will provide content for a strong enough show.  If the proposed show meets all the criteria, it is presented to the network.

Goren-Rode was drawn to University Grill because of the friendly ownership and family dynamic.

“It’s a great family,” she said. “Three kids that want to help their parents. It’s a really nice story. And we try to help them achieve their goal and save their business.”

She was also inspired to help the restaurant attract more college students because of its close proximity to Elon’s campus.

“It’s so close (to the university), and they are sort of missing the boat,” Goren-Rode said. “They really want to be a family restaurant as well as attract college students, and they want it to be comfortable for everyone. They don’t want it to be a drinking hangout, but they want it to be a place where everyone can come and be comfortable and enjoy a great meal and have a great atmosphere and get great food.”

Elon senior art majors Paige Geffen, Laura Brentrup and Lauren Stellato spent all afternoon on the set helping with the mural.  When they finished painting, they stuck around to watch Irvine reveal the new restaurant to the owners. All three were excited about the new menu and look forward to visiting the restaurant more frequently.

“It’s University Grill, and Elon students really don’t come here,” Geffen said. “Having us work on it was a great way to advertise.”

Brentrup agreed that if the food is good, students will come.

“Immediately, I’m sure everyone will want it to come, and it will depend on how good it is whether it will stay popular,” she said. “Because it is so close to all the housing in this area as opposed to the other side of campus, it will be nice for those people, too.”

While University Grill experienced a permanent  transformation, Goren-Rode said she hopes Elon students will cherish the experience.

“Everyone has been welcoming, warm, cooperative — really gone above and beyond our expectations,” she said. “They’ve been working nonstop to reach this goal, and I think they’re proud of it.  For me, the goal was to have it be a great learning experience and enjoyable thing for them and to have a lasting impression of their work.”