Justice for Rosie’s: Hit-run suspect arrested

Kaitlyn Rose Pilsbury in the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center, and with Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible.”/Sharp Hospital

Rene Solorio, 35, sits at the Vista Jail today, charged with the alleged December 2019 hit-and-run crash that seriously injured Kaitlyn Rose Pillsbury, proprietress of Rosie’s Cafe as featured on the Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible” show hosted by Chef Robert Irvine.

Solorio, a Vista resident, remained jailed in lieu of $200,000 bail Monday, a week after he was taken into custody on a Jan. 4 warrant. Sheriff’s officials made the announcement Monday, Jan. 11, but didn’t say why they delayed the reveal a week.

A white Ford Explorer struck Pillsbury as she was riding her Harley Davidson motorcycle through Vista just before Christmas. The hit-and-run driver veered his SUV into her at a gas station intersection and fled on foot.

Pillsbury’s injuries were serious to the max. She was in coma for some time with a serious head injury and broken bones in her legs and one arm. After three months in the hospital and numerous surgeries, she was released to outpatient physical therapy in late February 2020.

Irvine originally hooked up with Rosie in January 2019 when his restaurant makeover show visited the Cafe and did its thing. Unfortunately, the combination of Rosie’s injuries and a post-COVID economic environment spelled the end of the restaurant that occupied the historic former site of Champion’s Restaurant at 117 W. Grand Ave. in downtown Escondido.

In an interview last April, Irvine said that reinventing Rosie’s Cafe at 117 W. Grand Ave. was one of his favorite episodes of “Restaurant: Impossible,” a series that aired on Food Network from 2011 to 2016 and then re-launched in Spring 2019 with the Rosie’s episode as its premiere. The British chef is known for his tough-as-nails personality.He said Pilsbury was equally tough and resistant to change, but he eventually won her over.

“Makeovers are tough, period,” Irvine said, “but this one was tough emotionally because I truly believe in her and she’s inspiring to me. It’s the first one in many episodes where I really wanted her to succeed. I wanted to teach her. I wanted to get through to her.”

Just before COVID-19 changed everything, this final reality TV show installment in the Rosie’s Cafe saga was recorded during a fundraising extravaganza held Feb. 17, 2020 at Grand Avenue and Maple Street.

The carnival had a New Jersey theme, in honor of Cafe owner Kaitlyn Rose “Rosie” Pilsbury’s heritage, and included food booths, arcade games and rides. General admission tickets were $20. Children under 3 were free. All proceeds went to the Pilsbury family.

The event itself raised over $120,000 for Pilsbury, 34. Of that, The Food Network donated $50,000 and Irvine donated $20,000.

Pillsbury sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as well as broken bones in her legs and arms due to the hit-and-run crash. After weeks on a ventilator and several surgeries, she was transferred to the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center.

When Pillsbury arrived, she had difficulty walking and communicating. The young, vibrant woman who could once craft gourmet sandwiches in 30 seconds, couldn’t hold a knife or understand a recipe. The rehabilitation team had to develop a specific treatment plan to help Kaitlyn regain her skills.

“With every patient, the initial focus of our treatment plan varies widely, based on the severity of a patient’s injury,” Lori Davidson, Pillsbury’s physical therapist said. “Sometimes patients need to focus on very basic motor skills, such as being able to sit or stand, before they can address skills related to their previous recreation or employment.”

Pillsbury had to start with the basics: sitting up in bed, getting around in a wheelchair, weight training to build her core strength, and walking with a walker and, then finally, a cane. She was wearing a neck brace and soft cast on her arm during this time. After almost three weeks, she was ready for the real test: the kitchen.

The intrepid Rosie’s Cafe proprietress wanted to make biscuits and gravy — one of her favorite recipes. Her therapists accompanied her to the grocery store — not only to gather ingredients, but also to evaluate her walking ability, balance, vision, memory and money management.

“Kaitlyn was dynamic and energetic,” Bernadette Gore, her recreation therapist said. “She knows her recipes and it was fun watching her work. And her biscuits and gravy were delicious.”

Today, Kaitlyn is walking without assistance and continues to get stronger each day. But with the impact of so much change in her life, along with the current pandemic, Rosie’s Café bit the dust.

Restaurant makeover specialist Robert Irvine takes Rosie’s owner Kaitlyn Rose outside to discuss some pressing diner business on Season 14 Episode 1 of Restaurant: Impossible that aired April 20, 2019 on The Food Network/Twitter

Pillsbury is not closing the door on opening another restaurant in the future, but is considering a smaller enterprise to sell her favorite pies and cheesecakes; making them is therapeutic for her. In addition, because of her experience at Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center, she feels inspired to deliver hope to other trauma survivors and become a physical therapist herself.

“I have moments of downtime, but I take a deep breath and know things will get better,” Pillsbury said. “I’m grateful I’m alive, continuing to heal and following my own motto: ‘Never, never quit being grateful for your life. I’m new and improved.’”

Solorio was arraigned last week in Vista Superior Court on one count of hit and run with death or serious injury, and faces up to four years in prison if convicted. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

The crash happened just after 8 p.m. Dec. 21, 2019. Pilsbury was riding her motorcycle, headed north on North Melrose Drive near West Vista Way, when a white Ford Explorer made a left in front of her, sheriff’s officials have said.

After the crash, the driver ditched the SUV and took off running. The driver was not the registered owner of the vehicle.

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