The Redemption of Guy Fieri
Guest Post by Collin McDonnell, Owner/Founder of HenHouse Brewing Company
When Stuart first asked if I’d like to write about Guy Fieri, I thought I’d write something about how cool it is that Guy’s signature TV show, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” is essentially a 400+ episode PR campaign for locally-owned, small, quirky, businesses. Just the sort of places Broke-Ass Stuart readers like you and me are stoked to hear about from sites like this. Naturally, I’d throw in the obligatory apologies for the flame shirts and the term “flavor dribblins” and boom, “Stuart, here’s your piece.”
Turns out, that piece has already been written, several times, and all of them feel a little gross. It’s super weird to read someone thanking Guy for being the last non-problematic TV Chef, explicitly comparing him to the horribleness that is Paula Dean dropping hard R’s or Mario Batali being a predator, and still be unable to resist dunking on the frosted tips. Why can’t we just fucking say nice things about Guy? No wink-wink-but-he’s-still-a-
I am aware that people harsh on Guy for looking like the dude from Smashmouth and saying, “Welcome to Flavortown!” I am also aware of Guy Fieri’s long and impactful resume of philanthropic work, particularly what he has done to help those affected by three straight summers of devastating wildfires here in Northern California. But only one of those things matters.
You don’t need to be a fan of Guy’s TV shows or a former regular at Tex Wasabi’s (RIP) or even one of his three-and-a half million Twitter followers to admire the fact that when there were fires in our community, Guy went and fed evacuated folks. And three months ago, when restaurants all closed, Guy went and raised $22 million dollars to just give to restaurant employees. I was ready to write a “Be nice to Guy, he’s doing good work” piece based on that alone, but an hour of Googling this man led me to a different thesis: Guy Fieri is a goddamn inspiration.
Indulge me as I soapbox for a moment about how important small businesses, in general, and restaurants, in particular, are to America. Those who know me know that I could spend a few thousand words making this point. I’ll try to do it in fewer than that. Not only are the economic benefits of having local ownership of businesses well documented, but I’d also argue independently owned restaurants are the closest the myth of the American dream comes to ever being true.
Restaurants are commonly the first business venture for their owners, they are one of the few industries where people regularly go from being an employee to an employer. Restaurants are more commonly owned by immigrants than other businesses. These restaurants become one way in which folks put down roots in a community. Restaurants are where white folks have their most direct interactions with folks of other ethnicities and I fully believe restaurants make us less racist. Restaurants offer so many folks, particularly folks who did not have access to higher education, their first management gigs. Restaurants are where we meet old friends and make new ones. On my wedding day, we went to a restaurant. After the last funeral I went to, we went to a restaurant. I don’t want to pretend there are no issues with the restaurant industry, but so many of our most frequently-proclaimed American aspirations are embodied in the hospitality industry.
My brewery, HenHouse Brewing, just participated in Other Half’s worldwide collaboration to support hospitality industry professionals, and we’ll be donating proceeds to the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, Guy’s non-profit mentioned above. This was an easy choice for me, both because of the paragraph before this and because the whole point of the RERF is to just give money to people who need it. So much of charitable giving gets into weird judgments about who’s worthy and makes assumptions about “what really helps.” It is refreshing to see Guy say, “Just give the people money.”
Despite our weird inability to just be nice to the man, Guy has a sense of humor! You think your Guy jokes are funny, Guy’s Guy jokes are way funnier! It’s 2020 and I’m fully aware straight white guys in positions of power are more than likely problematic, but I look at Guy and all I see is a dude living his best life, who is able to laugh at himself, and working to be a positive force in the community. And let me tell you, I did not go into this thinking I was going to write the phrase, “Guy Fieri is living the life I aspire to” but shit, there it is in type.
Guy’s intention in supporting small businesses is inspiring. Guy’s desire to give back is inspiring. Guy’s total imperviousness to endless internet mockery is inspiring. Guy’s longevity is inspiring. Guy’s entrepreneurial drive is inspiring. Guy officiating a gay mass wedding to stick it to the homophobe Attorney General of Florida in 2015 is inspiring. I’m not going to dunk on Guy, I’m going to imitate him.
Editor’s note: Apparently Collin isn’t the only one who feels this way. Thousands have signed a petition to rename Columbus, Ohio to ‘Flavortown’ after native son Guy Fieri.