Flavortownusa.com is a fan website that tracks the restaurants where Fieri has visited on "Triple D" (the show's nickname) and provides a space where his audience can submit suggestions for upcoming episodes. Rick Graner, a fan in Minneapolis, was inspired to create the website in 2008 after watching an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and became instantly hooked. The self-proclaimed foodie ("but not in the snotty way") says that his interest in food culture was formed by the show, but he's since branched out to watching other food TV stars like Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods, and Anthony Bourdain. But he maintains that "no one else has charisma quite like Guy." For Graner, watching Fieri is like going to a concert. "It's fun to watch him, but it's pretty weird that he's made it so big."In the nine years since the website's inception, Graner's visited over 100 Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives locations because he loves the show's mission. "Getting to know the characters at these restaurants and learning how they've put their stamp on their food is why I love to watch." Graner, who works in IT, estimates that the website receives roughly 4,000 unique visits a day, but in high travel season—around August—it can spike from 10,000 to 15,000 unique visits per day. He's even built iPhone and Android apps for people on the go, and receives daily emails from users who update him on places that have closed. "It's an awful lot of pilots, stewardesses, and motorcycle people."
"Watching Fieri is like going to a concert."
For someone who rose to fame in the over-the-top glam spotlight, Fieri's popularity isn't all that surprising. "He's not fake, but yet he's got an intense energy and a personality that makes him likeable. He's very much like a rock star from the 80s—he doesn't look like one—but he's transcended being a food guy or a TV star or a restaurant owner. He deserves it because he's a walking billboard. And he's fun."Hagar sums up Fieri's audience thus: "No-collar-brand guys. Guys who like to have a couple drinks and have a good party. If they walk into a bar where there's a little bit of trouble, they'd probably get involved in it. Kinda red-neckies. Beachcomber rednecks. Foodies, for sure. And drinkies—'juicers' is what I call them. Rock 'n' roll guys. They love my music—they crank it in his restaurants and people start rockin.'"I mention Fieri's self-awareness of the negative criticism that also comes with his brand. "Guy's disarming. He's not one of them uppity, stuck-up stars that you're afraid to go near. He ain't like that, man. He's the guy that walks in and says, 'Hey dude, let's go have a drink, man! Let's go do a shot! Let's go smoke a joint! That's what people expect from Guy. And 90 percent of it, he'd probably do if he had the time."
"I think he got his look from me originally, but he's definitely taken it to his own level."
"No-collar-brand guys. Guys who like to have a couple drinks and have a good party. If they walk into a bar where there's a little bit of trouble, they'd probably get involved in it. Beachcomber rednecks. Foodies, for sure."
I grab a coated chip and ask Fieri about his childhood. "When I was a kid—and I'm still this way today—all I think about is food," he tells me. "When I would get up in the morning, the first thing I would say was 'What's for dinner?'"We're soon interrupted by a short-haired brunette in her 60s. "I just have to tell you that that was the best hamburger of my life. I had it here last year and then I brought my husband here last night," she gushes."Gimme some," Fieri orders, putting out his fist for a bump.The woman laughs. "You know what? It sets the bar, so we're going on three Carnival Cruises just because of your hamburgers." (Fieri's partnered with Carnival Cruise lines to create Guy's Burger Joint and Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse on fleet-wide ships). Fieri starts laughing and smacking the table. "Thank you very much. Is your husband a retired officer?" He asks. "No. I am. I'm gonna show you," she says as she pulls out her iPhone to reveal a youthful image of herself from 42 years ago. "Oh. My. Goodness. That is just awesome," says Fieri. "That's the day I got my nickname, cause' I was working the radar, and we were going into the station, one of the guys on dispatch said 'Hi radar.' The next day in the local newspaper, the headline was, "Radar Breaks Equality Roadblocks." From then on, my buddies called me Radar. "Well it's nice to meet you, Radar," says a smiling Fieri. "Anyways, I spend a lot of time watching you. Amazing!" she says with a wave and walks away.
A post shared by Helen Hollyman (@helenhollyman) on Dec 1, 2016 at 6:19pm PST
As I watch him cut into the sandwich, I ask him how he deals with his critics. "I don't try to make sense of it. I don't participate. I do Twitter. Read what I tweet. I tweet positive stuff. Facebook? Positive stuff. I'm not into negative energy. I don't give a shit who did what wrong. It's not my fucking problem. And if I do something wrong, I'll answer to what I do wrong. I don't expect everybody to like me. It's not a popularity contest. I'm just doing the best that I can do. Someone once asked me in an interview, 'You went and changed your last name and you bleached your hair.' And I said, 'No, my family was made to change their last name when my grandfather came over from Italy, and I've always been 'Fiedi' [pronounced FEE-eddy]. The girl who originally cut my hair told me I couldn't have my rocker mullet anymore. I had long, long hair in college, but I had to keep it in a ponytail and all that bullshit because I was in the hospitality business. The first tattoo I ever got was about my son Hunter when he was a baby. People want to make this like, 'Oh, so the Food Network made the perfect host: He's a rocker, a dad, and a chef.' It's such bullshit. If you want to believe that Tom Brady is…" He stops himself. "If somebody wants to believe what an actress does wrong." He pauses and raises both hands in a stick-up gesture. "If you're wasting your fucking time in my world about anybody else, and if they're not harming you or your children, our country, or mankind, let it be. Take all that energy and go work at the food bank, would ya? Stop worrying about other fucking people."
"I was on top of the world. I mean, come on. I had a hot rod and a boat. I was done. I was 35 years old and I thought, This is fucking great."
Fieri later responded to Bourdain's cutting remarks in an interview with GQ Magazine: "I don't like him making fun of people, and I don't like him talking shit. And he's never talked shit to my face. I know he's definitely gotta have issues, 'cos the average person doesn't behave that way. … It's just, what are you doing? What is your instigation? You have nothing else to fucking worry about than if I have bleached hair or not? I mean, fuck."For the Parts Unknown star—who's recently slurped noodles in Hanoi with President Obama and traveled to over 100 countries, shedding light onto political unrest, regional cultures and cuisines through moments shared by a pot of stew, a swig of moonshine, a few shared cigarettes—the problem with Fieri is the power of his gigantic platform."As a person with a TV show who's been in the industry for a while and who sees the juice that Guy Fieri has, the fact that he hasn't chosen to do more with it… I don't know. Maybe I'm just an asshole."Fieri has a strong connection to the military, but wants to make it clear that he's not a fan of war. "I have a story to tell you that's a real tear-jerker." We're chatting by phone two days before Christmas, only two weeks since our time together in Las Vegas. I'm catching up with Fieri while he spends some down time at his home in Santa Rosa, the same house he's lived in for the past twenty-odd years. This afternoon, the Fieri family is headed up to their ranch, where a quarter-acre garden bursting with organic produce and 290 goats—Fieri's nontoxic answer to weed and poison oak control—await.
"Guy Fieri: Dude, do anything you want."
Coincidentally, the Culinary Institute of America has a GI program that allows military veterans to receive an education after serving, harkening back to the school's origins. The school was founded in 1946 by culinary educator Frances Roth and Katherine Angell as a vocational training institution for returning World War II veterans.Could Fieri be the savior of manly food personalities that viewers have been waiting for? In May, 2012, The Journal of Consumer Research released a study that links consumer association of meat with masculinity. "To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food," the authors write. "Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy." Is Fieri's attention to tucking into beefy "real deal BBQ," burgers, rings, and oozing fries on camera mediated by masculinity?Freedman adds, "I think Fieri kind of taps into that hearty, spicy, messy, authentic, country, working class, Trump voter—whatever, whoever you want to sort of think of that he might appeal to. I can't think of anybody who has appealed to working-class men in food media like Fieri. It's like Elvis. You can make fun of Elvis at his height, which people did, and his fans still loved him."In 2015, Fieri surprised critics and fans alike when he quietly launched an organic winery called Hunt & Ryde, named for his two sons, Hunter and Ryder. The line includes a pinot noir, a cabernet blend, and a zinfandel, all priced between $45 and $75 a bottle. Selling wines with high price points is off-brand for Fieri, who uses his celebrity to highlight affordable meals around the nation. Why the sudden shift? "There's really no rhyme or reason. Don't give me that much credit like I have some master plan, because I really don't," he says. Fieri explains that his hippie upbringing impacted his awareness of the environment and how we treat it. It's part of the impetus for opening an organic winery. "I think we need to pay attention to what we're doing to our planet and what we're putting in our bodies. If anybody believes that we can change the genetics of food, put chemicals on them to make them grow bigger, faster, and to grow to withstand natural elements, and we think we can do all of that and there's not gonna be repercussions, we're crazy. I'm not changing the world but I'm doing my part, and I really believe that."
"What I believe in is that you have to invest in your security of what's important to you, and we have to recognize the men and women [in the military] and the commitment that it takes to keep our country safe."
But why can't Fieri introduce those ideas to his massive audience—the same, faithful fans that I've witnessed worship him in his temple of gut-busting dishes? What if those "Awesome" Pretzel Chicken Tenders on the menu were made with free-range chicken, or that Fieri Caesar salad with local lettuce? Is it just about the food cost, or is there something deeper in his resistance? "I have to be conscious of the platform and the push. I have a lot of loyal fans. I have a lot of fans that would unquestionably do whatever, but I don't want to abuse that relationship because it doesn't happen overnight. There's been some bands over the years that we love that suddenly put out that one album and everybody goes, 'WHAT?! WHAT HAPPENED? COME ON.' I'm not saying that I'm afraid to make change, but I believe it has to be organized, designed, and respected at the time it takes."Respect is part of the lasting legacy that Fieri wants for himself. Twenty years from now, he wants to be remembered for making a positive impact on the food world, being the guy that made an impact on 1,100-plus mom and pop restaurants around the country, being a "good dude," and a "good buddy." He hopes he measures up to be half the father his own father is to him.He softens: "My energies and my interests—as much as it will be misunderstood—the bleached hair, tattoos, rock n' roll, and loud cars are just one facet of how I am."
"I think we need to pay attention to what we're doing to our planet and what we're putting in our bodies."