When I was a kid, I'm almost ashamed to say that most of my television watching habits revolved around Man vs. Food. But what more would you expect from an overweight teen? You put some giant ribs on my TV screen, and I'm gonna watch.
From time to time, if I didn't get my food fix from one plump man, I would wait through the commercial breaks for the next one. This one, frosty tipped and donning a flamed shirt. I soon found out this guy's name was Guy Fieri, and thought nothing of it until he became a meme.
The hedgehog-haired mayor of Flavortown might be the punchline for a lot of food writers and a few notable celebs, but even their favorite restaurants open up their kitchens to Fieri for a 10-minute slot on the show.
For 260 episodes, restaurants would close their place for a few days, relinquishing control of their business to a TV crew, and have to cook every item on their menu. For 24 seasons, Fieri's hugely popular show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (or triple D, to the uninitiated) has been a shining a light on "mom-and-pop shops", with honest-to-goodness good food all across America.
After the recording is done and your restaurant has had its slot on the show, though, what happens next? Does a microcosmic gentrification take place, forcing the regulars to move on? Do these treasured local joints become tourist traps for meaty dudes shouting about "donkey sauce"? Here are the stories of a few businesses that featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, to show how it all goes down.
Emily N Biederman, owner of Steuben's in Denver, Colorado, recalls preproduction being far longer than initially anticipated. "It always begins with a quick phone call and a lofty proposition. In our case, the producers called a bunch of food writers in Denver to find some good local places. They reached out to us and we sold them on our place."
TV may make it seem as though Fieri just rolls up in a car with the top down, but the visit actually takes months when the idea is greenlit, because writers need to develop a story around the restaurants in an area.
Just because you are chosen and you cook all of your menus for them, doesn't mean Fieri and his crew will decide to film there: your restaurant has to be the right fit for their story. The wait is excruciating, but if you are chosen, like Emily and her restaurant were, "it will change your business forever".
Griffin Bufkin owns Sothern Soul Barbeque in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and remembers the "Guy Fieri" experience before during and after filming, saying: "When Fieri first stepped foot in Southern Soul, he came in a plain white T and cargo shorts, his normally spiky hair flaccid and un-frosted. No backward sunglasses. No bowling shirt. Just a guy named Guy."
Barely recognizable, Fieri talked to everyone and was generally a really nice, down-to-earth guy. However, when he came back for filming, it was a completely different story.
"He was all Fieri-ed up. His tips were freshly frosted. He had his flames on. And he was just amped up, you know? Still really nice, really cool -- but like an amplified version of himself for sure." When parting, Fieri left Griffin and the team with some encouraging words of advice about the impact of him and his show, saying get ready for a "200% increase in business."
Griffin didn't believe the lofty prediction at first, especially considering his joint was an hour off the highway, but sure enough, that's what happened. Griffin says "it hasn't stopped since".
One thing that every restaurant owner has noted is that the spike in business is not temporary. The number of times The Food Network replays its shows (including Triple D) means that not only will business spike and stay steady, but get even further injections soon after a repeat is shown.
Sarah Sanneh, co-owner of Pies 'n' Thighs in Brooklyn, says:"we can always tell the day after our episode has been re-run. Like, all of a sudden we'll be slammed on some random Tuesday, then we'll realize, 'Oh, they just replayed our show… that makes sense.” In Emily's case, she always see's a spike during tourist season because American Airlines play her episode on inbound flights to Denver.
If people aren't travelling in the air to your joint, they're taking Guy Fieri-style road trips. Adam Sappington, owner of Portland, Oregon's James Beard-nominated Southern restaurant, The Country Cat says: "people come here about once every other week that are on these restaurant crawls across the country." And this happens much more often than you think.
When Guy puts his stencil on your restaurant, you are pretty much sorted for life. People take their picture in front of it, and it's like another notch in their Triple D belt. Yes, Fieri can sometimes come off on camera as over-excitable at best and obnoxiously grating at worst, but his work is for the greater American good.
He is a genuinely nice guy and he cares about the restaurants and people he visits. "Exactly one month after filming our episode, our entire restaurant burned to the ground," Griffin said. "And one of the first people to call us - while the place was actually still on fire - was Guy Fieri. He wanted to see how we were, if he could help, but overall just to encourage us to get back on our feet."
"I would never agree to be part of anything that badmouths Guy Fieri in any way," Adam said. "With so many food shows focusing on competitions and negative aspects of the industry, it's just great to see a show that really puts a lens on what the restaurant world is all about. Fieri is showing people what it's really like to be in the restaurant world, and people out there just eat it up."
His show ultimately helps small business owners get massive exposure but not only that, it brings affordable, delicious food into the public consciousness. What more could you want from a food television personality?