SAN ANTONIO - It was close to shutting down, but restaurant owner Ken Lee feels things are improving after a makeover show dramatically altered Mama Lee’s Soul Food Restaurant off Walzem Road near 1-35.
A crew from the popular Food Network show, Restaurant Impossible, remodeled the restaurant in January.
"They totally revamped this wall right here," he said.
The wall now has a heart shaped cut-out allowing people to see straight through into the dining room. There is a new bar and lots of new things in the kitchen.
"Chef thought my gumbo was a bit salty," said the owner.
He is referring to the show host, Robert Irvine, who wanted more healthy choices on the menu.
Some of soul food recipes got a new twist, but not all of the popular comfort foods changed.
"We have collard greens, baked chicken, candied yams," said Lee.
Lee said Irvine scratched his pork chops from the menu, but by popular demand the dish is back.
With so much to offer, Mama Lee's was still failing. Open four years, the Army veteran's place had never made a profit. In November 2011, Lee wrote to the Food Network, desperately hoping Restaurant Impossible could do something to help before he was forced to shut down - already in major debt.
The makeover crew spent two days remodeling and cleaning up the restaurant. It was hard for Lee to stomach the criticism from Irvine who held the former Army cook to a higher standard based on his military experience.
"That was hard to hear. But I took it all in," admitted Lee.
When the show unveiled the new, brighter place, it brought tears to the eyes of Lee and his mother, who inspired his dream of owning a diner.
"It was very emotional for my mom. I’m a mama's boy, so when mom got emotional and cried. I got emotional and cried," Lee confessed.
Five months later, the restaurant is still busy and Lee revealed he's making money. But he still has a way to go to consider the place really successful.
Lee has received lots of calls and emails from people around the country who saw the television show episode.
"Took a kick in the butt, but it was worth it in the end and we have this beautiful restaurant to show for it," Lee said.