Restaurant Revisited: Monkey Business at Spunky Monkey Bar and Grill

by in Shows, January 15th, 2014

Restaurant: ImpossibleFrom a filthy interior to seemingly indifferent management, the problems at Spunky Monkey Bar and Grill in Auburn, Wash., were many, and it was up to Robert Irvine and his Restaurant: Impossible team to decipher and ultimately fix them one by one if the business was to have any chance at future success. Over the course of two days and with a budget of only $10,000, Robert overhauled the interior of the eatery, redesigned the menu and worked with owner Donel Brinkman to implement positive changes that ultimately allowed her to reopen Spunky Monkey to a packed crowd. Read on below for an exclusive interview with Donel and find out how her business is faring a few months later.

“Customers are thrilled with the design (as are we),” Donel says of the diners’ reactions to Spunky Monkey’s transformation, “and we are receiving great commentary on the transition.”

Since Robert left, Donel says that her own role at the restaurant now includes everything from buying and communications to general management of employees. “I tie in daily with staff, the kitchen, marketing and social media, and am an integral part of all purchasing, inventory management and marketing efforts,” she explains. “I also am present for a large bulk of evenings, and sometimes overnight in an effort to assure the cleanliness, organization, inventory management and overall function of the business.”

Employees are no longer focusing as heavily on servicing what Donel deems their “‘sections'” but rather have started to approach the restaurant as a whole. “We also work to assist in a team atmosphere, and run food collaboratively when needed, or assist on supporting customer needs (refills, etc.) for the entire floor.” She says the “staff has been intensely trained over the last month to act, engage and think bigger picture, always putting the customer and success of the restaurant as a first priority.”

According to Donel, Shannon “is assisting with management operations as needed, and acts in the best interest of the restaurant’s success,” adding that she “is not going home during her shifts, as the restaurant is staffed to operate at all times.” In terms of her relationship with Shannon, Donel explains, “Working together on management, training of staff, gathering feedback from customers and strong marketing has given us an opportunity to revisit our love for each other and the restaurant.”

Looking ahead to the future of Spunky Monkey, Donel says, “We hope to take Chef Irvine’s lead in redefining what is offered to the local market — adapting where necessary — to regain success and stability as a business while maintaining a commitment to our community.”

More from Restaurant Revisited:

Heather’s Country Kitchen (January 1)
Goombazz Big City Eatzz (December 18)
LBI Pancake House (December 8)
Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Company (December 8)
Mike La Susa’s Italian Restaurant (December 4)
Seven (November 27)
Georgia Boy Cafe (November 20)
Coach Lamp Restaurant & Pub (November 13)
The Windsor 75 (November 6)
Ducky’s Family Restaurant (October 30)
Mama Campisi’s Restaurant (October 23)
Aponte’s Pizzeria (August 25)
Benner Street (July 28)
Hurley’s American Grille (July 21)
Kalico Kitchen (July 14)
Angelo’s (June 23)
Pier West Restaurant (June 16)
Pinehurst Country Lodge (June 9)
Bryan’s Smokehouse (May 26)
Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant (May 19)
Mom & Dad’s Italian Restaurant (May 12)
Smitty’s Restaurant (April 28)
Old World Italian Restaurant (April 21)
Joe Willy’s Seafood House (April 14)
Sweet Tea’s Restaurant & Catering (March 24)
Soup to Nuts Diner (March 17)
Caseyville Cafe (March 13)
Maniaci’s Italian Restaurant (March 10)
Dinner Bell Restaurant (February 27)
Nanny Goat’s Cafe & Feed Bin (February 20)

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Comments (106)

  1. carole says:

    I keep wondering each week how any of the restaurants have passed health inspections. To me, if I walk in a place that had warped floors, and dust on everything, I would walk back out.

  2. Roberta Locke says:

    Being a Auburn resident and having years of Restaurant experience I felt I needed to voice my opinion after my recent visit to the Spunky Monkey.
    I have visited this establishment over the past 15 years and not that it was ever great but in the earlier years they had a couple dishes that I liked. After Robert was there my friend and I visited and were so excited and pleased with the changes, this was about 2-3 weeks after the makeover. We sat in the bar area and had a cocktail and 2 appetizers. The hummus was very good and creamy, also the apple butternut squash soup was tasty. The cocktail was definitely a free hand pour, very strong. Our over all experience was a pleasant one. The restaurant had a few customers, most were in the back dining area.
    At this point we were pleased and planned to visit again.

    Boy, it did not take long for things to go back to the old ways!! Pool table and old Monkey decor is back, the menu does not have most of the food Robert taught and suggested and the service sucked!!
    I spent almost $100 on crap!! The only thing that was good was the local micro brew on tap!!
    Money wasted!! I won't return, and the 5 other people with me feel the same! Sorry Donell,

  3. hungryman says:

    I'm sitting here reading all these comment's and have to laugh.. With all these negative posting's I would put money on it that none of these people have been to the Spunky Monkey to really see how well they are doing … And as for the people saying that this is staged and script come back to the real world because this show is the real deal with what goes on … The Food Network and Robert and his crew are doing a wonderful thing helping these folk's ….

    • sunflowers1975 says:

      I have been to Spunky monkey before the remodel and twice after I am Not sure that I would go back for dining because the pool tables up there does more seem like its a bar

  4. Former Customer says:

    I live eight miles from this place. I have been there a handful of times. The last time being just a few days before filming. That night, I witnessed a VERY pregnant woman being served alcohol and a man she was with harassing the bartender. The bartender asked them to leave. A scene ensued as the pregnant woman CHUGGED her drink so it wouldn't be wasted when they got kicked out. After they were removed from the bar, half of a pitcher of beer was left on the table and a young lady snatched it up and started drinking it. There were multiple customers in this place that obviously not had a shower in quite some time. I was sereved a pitcher of beer with a red SOLO cup as they had no clean glasses.

    While Robert and his team did an excellent job making the place beautiful, I feel that it was a wasted effort. Auburn is a lower middle class area for the most part. The Safeway and Jiffy Lube across the street from this place is a popular hangout for homeless people. People chose this place to hand out for the cheap food and drinks. Not many people that live in that area have $60 extra a week to spend on a "fancy" meal. As a business owner, you have to market your place to the people in your surrounding area. This place worked as a "dive bar". It clearly needed the clean up but making it more upscale was not the best choice for the location.

    • Getoveryourself says:

      If you live within a few miles of Auburn you are a lower income non showered person as well. The entire 20 mile radius is the same.There is big money here, you just don't run in those circles. If you did you certainly would not be going to Spunky Monkey. Anyone that has money in Auburn spends it elsewhere, we all know Auburn is a pajamas mandatory and teeth are optional place.

    • Auburn Resident says:

      I live closer than you to the restaurant and I have sixty dollars a week for a fancy dinner thank you. I don't think that Auburn is a "lower middle class area" anymore than any suburb of Seattle is. I have been to the Monkey before and after and then again months after and then again recently and I find the move to be a fine one. Yes, it is a bar, yes, like most bars it can attract a poor showing of people but if you want a nice lunch or early dinner. the atmosphere is lovely. I ate there about two weeks ago and found nothing lacking in service, taste or cleanliness other than the un-remodeled bathrooms still being un-remodeled. I liked our server, who has been there quite some time and she was very attentive. I didn't agree with all the changes that were made for the show but some were for the better and some didn't meet the needs of the current clientele. I think that the Monkey has tried to redefine their market again while still being fresh and catering to some of their loyal and diehard customer base. What's wrong with a fine dining establishment that turns into a bar at night? I recall the Seattle Art Museum used to do events where it turned into a club after it closed (it might still but that was in my collage days) and frankly, the idea is the same, generate revenue from the people who are most likely to be around: late night = bar hoppers. karaoke fiends and clubbers; daytime = families, couples and lunch-break business. So, former customer, why not give her a try during the day.

      • Auburn Sucks says:

        I stopped reading when you denied auburn as being a "lower middle class area". I work in Auburn and i think defining it as lower middle class is a possible overstatement

  5. Pamela Morris says:

    The video seemed to show all activity on an upstairs level. How does this place accommodate wheelchair users or others who cannot traverse stars?

  6. Ron says:

    I was there for lunch a couple weeks ago and it sucked. It gave off this lame, hipster vibe more fitting to Capitol Hill Seattle than Auburn. The service was bad, the burger was under-cooked and only came with FOUR small potato wedges. What a crock, why totally skimp on fries/wedges, potatoes are so cheap!

    This place is doomed if they don't get their act together…they need to serve decent food proportions or else people will go elsewhere to eat.

  7. Steve says:

    My wife and I went to the Spunky Monkey on February 15, 2014. We had a great time, the setting is a bar setting and we went there knowing we were going to a bar. It's not fine dining people, it never was and it never will be. It's a bar. Get over it. It was a great Karaoke bar, the drinks were good. The Host was great, the sound system was good, great choice of music. service was a little slow, but it was extremely busy, so there must be some people who like going to the neighborhood bar. Why? Because it is a bar!

  8. Roshellie says:

    My family and I went there for dinner on my brother's request. I have to admit that he's a bit of a food snob. Getting out of the car had me worried but again we were in downtown Auburn. We headed downstairs where all I could do was compliment the decor. It was definitely spunky :) However, I didn't make it upstairs. Thinking about it now, it all makes sense. The menu looks like a "Robert" menu and the decor looks professionally done. It was difficult for me to chose a dinner because I don't eat red meat, allergic to swimmy fish, nuts, etc., I ordered a Caesar salad and the shrimp tacos. The sauce on the tacos were to die for. Most of my family ordered a pasta dish. They ate every bite and couldn't say enough about how good it was. My mom said it was her favorite pasta dish ever! The jojos were good. The only thing that was a disappointment was the lack of details in the decor. The lanterns were not lit, one was down I think, you could see the back of the restaurant where the curtain should have been. Walking out of the restaurant the bar was loud but I remember noticing the cute decor by the door. My brother raves about this place and I know that my family and I will be back. Maybe the people that have nothing nice to comment about go there to drink. That's why I'm glad there's a downstairs!

  9. Andrew Sorba says:

    After seeing the episode, I decided to give Spunky Monkey a try. They have changed a lot since the episode ran. They replaced a large section of seating with two pool tables. They added a Karaoke machine in the alcove area and again replaced eating areas. The downstairs looked like a dungeon. The upstairs was fairly pleasant, except for those issues listed above.
    Now onto the food…I ordered the Salmon and was told they were out. This was at 430pm in the afternoon on a Satruday. Are you kidding me? So I ordered a pasta. It was good, but nothing to write home about. There is absolutely no reason for me to go back to this place. Sadly, it appears to be a remodeled dump.

  10. mike says:

    The only problem is it is called the spunky monkey but there are pictures of chimps on the wall not monkeys.
    Chimps are not monkeys. Sort of like a restaurant called the dirty dog with cat pictures on the wall.

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