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The Reality of Getting Your Business on Reality TV

Interview with Stacey Poon-Kinney owner of The Trails Eatery about appearing on reality television shows, overcoming obstacles in the restaurant biz, and learning to ask for help.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Takeaways from this episode: 

Becoming World Famous — After telling her honest story and the tale of The Trails on Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible, Stacey Poon-Kinney started to hear from people all over the world. Being on television allowed the restaurant owner to find new levels of global reach, especially as the episode continues to repeat in syndication.

Swallow Your Pride and Ask For Help — Learning to ask for help means swallowing your pride and realizing you can’t do everything all the time. It takes a lot of help to run a successful business. At a moment of desperation, with the walls seeming to close around her, Stacey knew it was time to reach out. Don’t get backed into a corner before you ask for assistance.

Invest in New Restaurant Tech — Stacey Poon-Kinney credits switching to the Toast point of sale system for restaurants for allowing The Trails Eatery to become a digital restaurant when they needed it the most. As they switched from full-service to quick casual in the pandemic,  Toast POS (also our show sponsor) provided lots of flexibility so she could operate the restaurant the way she wanted it to run.


Stacey Poon-Kinney is not just a star in the San Diego food scene. Thanks to the power of television, she and her The Trails Eatery are famous all over the world.

Appearing numerous times on Food Network shows and other productions, The Trails Eatery owner Stacey Poon-Kinney (@spkcooks) is well-known for waking up Southern Californians with her world-class breakfasts and then appearing on primetime for the world at large.

The restaurateur and food entertainer has shot dozens of shows and pilots after sharing her emotional story on Restaurant Impossible in 2011 and competing on Food Network Star in 2013. Appearing on television and in the media has given Stacey Poon-Kinney a vast audience to entertain. And all she has to do is be herself and showcase what she does best. 

“The experience of having been on a show that had such broad reach has only been positive, frankly,” the food star states on the Restaurant Influencers podcast, hosted by Shawn Walchef of “It was this lesson in love and vulnerability, to stand in front of people and say, ‘we’re failing in these ways and we’ve missed in these ways and we need help. 

When Stacey Poon-Kinney decided to open up and share her story to cameras, she found an international audience who became invested in her life and business. People began to trickle into The Trails restaurant from all around the world.

“To cry on television that people have seen all over the world was really humbling. But what it did is it literally cracked my heart open and showed everybody.”

On a vacation to Rome a while back, she remembered feeling like people were staring at her while she was out being a tourist. When Stacey got back to her Airbnb that night she saw that there was a Restaurant Impossible marathon on TV. Of course! They recognized her from her episode on TV.

“We’re still here and that’s the most important part — growing The Trails Eatery, doing new things, meeting new people, and having great experiences,” she said about her experiences.

The Hospitality Path: 

Whether cooking up cinnamon swirl pancakes for a hungry local guest (like podcast host Shawn Walchef and his family, who are regular diners at The Trails) or a wide-eyed and hungry national television audience, Stacey Poon-Kinney’s love for hospitality comes back to her heritage and roots. 

“I’m Chinese and we do everything around a table,” Stacey said. For the mother of two and an entrepreneur, being busy is always on the menu and there’s always much to celebrate. “There’s not a business deal that's made without sitting at a table. There's not a celebration that happens without food.”

Right now, her restaurant peers are pivoting in every way possible to get through a time that’s made running a business more challenging than ever.

While Stacey isn’t confident in a sure-fire solution for the restaurant industry, she is confident that she and her peers are fully capable of figuring it out. 

“What other industry has what we have?” asks Stacey Poon-Kinney about the restaurant industry. “We've got the ideas, the guts, the energy and attitude that gets us all through.”

Fortunately for Stacey, she’s been on top of some of the best innovations in restaurant technology to keep the lights on and bellies full.

“I went with Toast and thank God I did, because we had to switch over to online ordering,” recalls Stacey on her Point of Sale system pivot. “We also use Yelp Waitlist and it changed everything for us. I think we were able to get about 10 to 15 percent more customers in the door on a weekend. It was huge.”

Toast sponsors the Restaurant Influencers podcast. The weekly digital series is presented by Cali BBQ Media, Entrepreneur magazine, and Yelp for Business.

While anyone with a restaurant can take the same technical steps as Stacey Poon-Kinney to switch to Toast and other helpful services, there’s plenty of personal pivots they can make that are free of cost but unparalleled in value.

“If there is one actionable thing, I would say know who you are,” states Stacey. “Know what you want, know where you're going, and then executing is a lot easier. You have to know who you are. It's all about authenticity.”

“When you're in a restaurant, you’re telling a story with food. Any good storyteller tells a story they know.”

For Stacey, the storytelling rarely stops, but sometimes a break is needed to recharge

“Learn to meditate before you get into the restaurant business,” she said. “I think being able to take a deep breath, honestly is one of the most important things in this business because things happen fast and they're difficult and they're high stakes and you've got to learn how to pause.”

Giving her customers pancakes and company is still at the forefront of what Stacey and her team do day in and day out at The Trails Eatery.

“Everyone wants to feel heard and that's what we do in the hospitality industry. We don't sell people food, we hear who they are and then we give them the thing that they're asking for: what they need, whatever that might be. Some days people come in to get pancakes, but they're really there because they just need some company.”

For Stacey, supporting others is the lifeblood of what hospitality is all about.



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Welcome to the Restaurant Influencers podcast series, sponsored by Toast.


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