With his bleached, spiky hair, Guy Fieri doesn’t look like the business type. His style is more bowling shirt than Brooks Brothers suit, more hang-loose than buttoned-up. But that suits his public just fine.
Fieri gets paid to cut up for the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and the results are paying big dividends. Fieri is part of a growing phenomenon known as the “rock star chef,” who can fill large venues with foodie fans. It may look entertaining, but it’s also a serious business, and Fieri, 42, is highly driven, as evidenced by the red ’67 Chevy Camaro Super Sport convertible he uses on the Diners show.
Fieri was already a successful restaurant owner when he won the reality TV series The Next Food Network Star in 2006. Since then, he’s become host of three Food Network shows and written two cookbooks based on his experience on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. In addition to extensive travel and live appearances, he still owns five restaurants in northern California.
Fieri didn’t create the “Triple D” concept, he says, but going into a mom-and- pop restaurant and sharing their stories on TV is “truly a gift.” As a small-restaurant owner himself, he knows the marketing budgets are small and the recognition on TV a huge opportunity. He doesn’t choose the locations, but he does vet the food. After all, some places may be dumps aspiring to be dives.
On the Diners show, he’s a genuine host and a good listener, according to his crew, with a style that’s very hands-on. When he walks into a kitchen on location, he lifts lids, opens doors and asks questions, quickly gauging the quality.
Fieri is a California native who tested his culinary vision at age 10. After working the lemonade stand angle for a while, he opened his own business: The Awesome Pretzel, complete with a homemade vending cart attached to his bike. After graduating from the University of Nevada Las Vegas with a degree in hospitality management, he managed other people’s restaurants for a few years before he and business partner Steve Gruber opened their first restaurant, Johnny Garlic’s California Pasta Grill, in 1996. More locations and new concepts followed, including Tex Wasabi’s, a Southern BBQ and California Sushi restaurant.
Fieri has established a standout brand that’s stronger than garlic. He brings a rock attitude to food, and his brand is organically grown—the hair, the wrap sunglasses, the bling, the drum set in his kitchen. The brand is carried out on Web sites, a blog and products like flame-patterned knives. His motto says it all: Go big or go home.
Food Network celebrity chef Guy Fieri lives in northern California with his wife, Lori, and two boys: Hunter, 13, and Ryder, 4. After dropping off Hunter at school, Fieri gave SUCCESS a quick tour of Guy World.
SUCCESS: You mixed rock concert with food when you did the first-ever Guy Fieri Roadshow in late 2009, hitting 21 cities in 30 days. Where did this “food-a-palooza” idea come from?
Guy Fieri: I was trying to achieve an outreach and a connection with the greatest fans in the world. I’m in a very unique position in that I got to participate in the Food Network by contest. That’s long gone, being voted on, but I don’t forget where it came from, and I don’t forget the people who worked to put me here. I gotta stay connected with why we get this great job.
How did the tour fit in with your marketing strategy?
Guy Fieri: What do people want? Contact. People want to be able to see you and touch you. Are you real? The No. 1 thing I hear from people when I meet them in the airport is, “Oh my gosh, you’re just like you are on TV.” Well, I’m not an actor. I don’t think anyone could figure out how to be this weird.
You talk about a “Holy Trinity” of ingredients in different cuisines. What are the top three elements in your marketing strategy?
Guy Fieri: One, there’s gotta be quantifiable measurement—defining what is going to be on goal. Two, identifying the goal. I think, so many times, we can get in there with mixed goals that don’t translate to hitting the quantifiable measurement. Three, organized effort. We don’t need everybody thinking the same way and doing the same thing, otherwise somebody’s not necessary.
You have a great ability to lean over a vat of marinara sauce and not get splattered. What traits, habits or skills contribute to your success?
Guy Fieri: I’ve never been an apron fan; it’s all too cumbersome to me. I cook in fl ip-fl ops, I cook in shorts, I cook in whatever I’ve got on…. One of the biggest keys to my success is the people I have around me. I have a fantastic mom and dad, a very supporting and encouraging and loving wife, the greatest buddies in the world. I really attribute a tremendous amount of my success, my energy, enthusiasm, creativity, drive and desire to team play. I’ve got the support.
Sounds like you have an attitude of gratitude. When you do a live performance, anything can happen. How do you handle failures and setbacks?
Guy Fieri: I get tripped up, obviously, like anybody does, but nothing’s going to solve the situation by getting frustrated, angry, disappointed, overwhelmed. You can’t repair what has happened. You can learn from it. You can try to improve upon it. You can build a better foundation so maybe it doesn’t happen to you again. There’s nothing you can do about what just went down. So try and resolve it with the least negative impact.
I like the old saying, If God gives you lemons, make lemonade. One of mine is, If God gives you lemons, make lemonade, and hopefully you’ve got some friends with vodka. It’s all fair; it’s just how you choose to take it. Keep a positive attitude about it, and don’t get tripped up on it; reduce the consequences.
How much of what we see on TV is real, and how much is Guy acting out?
Guy Fieri: Here’s the deal. I can only tell you, give you and create for you what truly is going on in Guy World. One of the first things I said is “Real Deal Holyfield.” What you see is what you get. This is me. This is what I eat; this is how I do it. I am into life. Everything I’ve wanted to do I’ve done. I’ve ridden bulls, I’ve raced cars, I’ve done motorcycles, snowboarding, wakeboards, skis, been on stage, sang with Sammy Hagar. But I’m always hungry; I’m always looking for the game. I don’t have any reason to over-try and sell you something that’s not me.