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A Death in Flavortown: Guy Fieri's First Restaurant, Tex Wasabi's, Has Closed

For almost two decades, the eatery in Santa Rosa, California, served a combination of what it called "Rock-n-Roll Sushi" and barbecue.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Oct 2 2019, 9:23pm

Photo: Getty Images

In 1999, a 31-year-old Guy Fieri, not yet the Founding Father of Flavortown, opened his first Tex Wasabi's restaurant with his then-business partner, Steve Gruber. For almost two decades, that spot in Santa Rosa, California, served a combination of what it called "Rock-n-Roll Sushi" and barbecue, described on the menu as assorted arrangements of pork, sushi rice, French fries, and mayonnaise-based sauces.

On Monday, their era of "Gringo Sushi"—their words—came to an abrupt end, not with a bang, but with a sign taped to the restaurant's window and a newly deactivated website. "After nearly 20 years, we are sorry to announce that Tex Wasabi's had closed its doors," the sign read. "Thank you to all for your support and patronage over the years."

"We stuck it out as long as we could. We’re grateful for the public’s patronage,” Gruber told the Press Democrat. “An 18-year run is phenomenal in the restaurant business.” He is currently trying to sell the business, and said that a group of Tex Wasabi's staffers were actually trying to put their own offer together to buy it.

In December 2015, Fieri filed a petition with the state of California to dissolve the partnership that he'd started with Gruber, and to close the Johnny Garlic's restaurants they opened three years before Tex Wasabi's. Gruber responded with a lawsuit that he hoped would keep those eateries open, and allow him to buy Fieri's shares in the company. (Fieri did sell his stake in both Johnny Garlic's and Tex Wasabi's the following year.)

In August, the Johnny Garlic's restaurant in Brentwood, California also closed for good; it was the last of the eight Johnny Garlic's that Fieri and Gruber opened. There were two Tex Wasabi's until 2013, when the Sacramento location temporarily shut its doors before being reopened as a Johnny Garlic's… which closed again, for real, a year later. The Johnny Garlic's website now redirects its traffic to a "pharmacy" that sells chewable, flavored "Viagra."

Gruber said that he was forced to close his last remaining restaurant because of the "cost of doing business." Meanwhile, Fieri is staying busy with a number of restaurants, including Chicken Guy!—that's his own punctuation mark; El Burro Borracho; and Guy Fieri's Smokehouse. He also has a "small wine project" called Hunt & Ryde. (And every true Fieri stan knows that it's named for his two sons.)

If you have some cash stacked in the back of your closet and want to keep the Gringo Sushi going, get in touch with Steve Gruber: he says he's willing to sell the "intellectual property" in order to transfer the business over. Heck, maybe he'd even throw in some spicy mayonnaise.