Guy Fieri knows how to laugh at himself. That's why he has Instagram's best meme account
Guy Fieri is many things. A restauranteur, he opened his first venue in 1996. A TV personality, he anchors the Food Network's Friday evening lineup stalwart, Diner's, Drive-ins, and Dives. "Triple D," as he and fans call it, filmed its first episode in 2007 and 12 years and 30-plus seasons later, Fieri is preparing to head out for two weeks of shooting. "We're getting thousands upon thousands of requests at a time," he admits. "In the beginning, I'd be calling my friends like, 'Hey, have any of you ever been to Syracuse?"
On the same network, the star also hosts Guy's Grocery Games and Guy's Ranch Kitchen and has appeared in a dizzying amount of one-offs and specials. Fieri has released a handful of books; some of them related to Triple D, others are collections of original cookbooks. And most recently, Fieri—AKA the Mayor of Flavortown— has emerged as must follow on Instagram, where he shares increasingly hilarious memes and leads a fanbase with an unparalleled love for knuckle sandwiches.
Below, Esquire caught up with the Fieri to discuss a decade of Triple D, Diplo, "the food revolution" in America—and how the memes get made.
Esquire: Your Instagram presence brings great joy to the Esquire office. Do you enjoy posting and interacting with fans?
GUY FIERI: I gotta tell you, I love when the fans get so excited and the emojis start coming out [in the comments, where knuckle sandwiches are particularly popular] and people laugh at me. People laugh at me like, how do you do these?! Man, you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself.
You’ve been super imposed onto a poster for Once Upon a Time … In Flavortown, a tuxedoed member of the Flavortown Abbey Cast, and donned Walter White’s cap for a Breaking Guy series. Do you have a favorite meme you’ve posted?
I loved all of the employees of Flavortown. And, I mean, boy I am bad at the computer. Clip art is about as far as I can go. But my team, we’ll do this back and forth and [coming up with concepts and captions] is this whole game. Everyone is trying to one-up each other. That’s what makes it so fun. And once we started to find our ability to take it even further, it just opened the floodgates. And the fans are having a great time with it. It’s not a meme, but I’m trying to get t-shirts made with the knuckle and the sandwich [emojis]. I’ve had a tattoo on my arm of knuckle sandwich for the last 20 years—so I just want the cartoon knuckle and plain Jane sandwich.
That is just one of very many tattoos you’ve collected. Which means the most to you?
I lost my sister to cancer eight years ago. And I designed a tattoo of her and had it done. My mom was never a big fan of tattoos but I showed up to the burial and had it already done on my forearm, and I had made t-shirts of the tattoo. She’s shrouded in a veil of dragonflies and all the chakras are behind her and it says namaste, which is an important word in our family. It changed my mom’s entire attitude about tattoos. It was probably two or three years later, on the anniversary of my sister’s passing, that my mom went and got her own tattoo of a dragonfly. Never say never.
How old was she when she got that tattoo?
How much do you want me to get my butt kicked by my mom. I think I’m supposed to say she’s 57… [Laughs]
You have over a million followers. And while most accounts with that large of a following struggle with some pretty mean comments, your section stays pretty clean.
People know me by now. I’m not a negative energy person—and I’m not into negative. But, how do I handle when people write negative things? I don’t really pay attention to it. And that’s probably because I got into it a little bit later in life. I was set on who I wanted to be as a person, raised by great parents, and [I] have a fantastic wife.
You’ve been the Mayor of Flavortown for a while now. How did that begin?
I never said, Hey, you know what? I’ve got a great idea. Let’s make a mystical place; we’ll call it Flavortown and it will be real funny. There’s no way in hell anyone could be that whacked to make anything up like that! That started as a one liner. [While filming,] I said, ‘This pizza looks like a manhole cover in Flavortown.’ A week later, [director of photography] Anthony Rodriguez holding up a donut and says it looks like a steering wheel, to which I replied, ‘Yeah, in Flavortown!’ After the show aired, we were walking down the boardwalk in Atlantic City and someone goes, ‘I’m on my way to Flavortown!’ I look at Anthony and I’m like, ‘Was that from the show?’ 12 years later, it’s still this growing, developing, funny thing. Now people are residents of Flavortown and people are sending me street signs of Flavortown.
You recently teamed up with another enthusiastic Instagrammer: Diplo. I noticed you were featured in his “So Long” music video for his song with Cam.
He’s the best isn’t he? God. You know what makes him so good? What you see is what you get. And I’ve been around him and there has been just clamoring fans going nuts, and he stands there and talks to them like he’s known them for 25 years and they all decompress. They know he’s not going to walk away. Talk about knowing how to breathe it all in. And then, on the other side, you realize just how masterful he is at the same time. But yea, in the street cred with my kids and my kids’ friends, things went up a notch with that.
Social media wasn’t around when you opened your first restaurant. Does it make the job of a restaurant owner easier?
Maybe people had MySpace—but even that was 10 years [after we opened]. We had to do a lot of TV advertising, radio advertising, and it cost a fortune. Folks now have a much better shot at sharing who they are. Obviously, when you can also be on Triple D or any of the great travel shows that the Food Network does out there, it gives you a chance to touch millions. They can, without question, be life changing.
30-plus seasons into Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, has your team got a pretty strict system in place?
The system is called shoot it, get it done. But I’m very picky. I want to make sure that we have the right place. And as soon as it feels rushed, then it doesn’t feel as good. This is a very fun time for a family or for a restaurant or a community. When Triple D shows up, it means that there is going to be some really great exposure and there’s going to be some great adventure that people are going to get to be a part of. A lot of people are counting on this being done the right way. Have there been locations that I wish we could have shot? Without question. Are there reasons that we can’t? Yes. I mean, I get every heartbreak story in the world of people needing me to go to their location. We try to listen to them all.
It’s a lot of pressure, I imagine.
People thank me all of the time. And I say, well, hang on a second. I appreciate you thanking me, but you are the ones that made your restaurant. You are the ones that are doing this amazing job. You are the ones that are this unique family that have been running this for a hundred years. I thank you. I thank you for letting me come here and talk to you, because this is what we want. We’re so congested with so much information, it’s nice to be able to do something on a Friday night that people can sit around together as a family and watch and go, Hey, you know what, next time we go to Vancouver, we’re going to check this out.
Certainly no one starts a show expecting to go into their 30-something season. Do you love Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives differently than you did when you began filming?
When we first started the show, if you would have asked me, I would have said, ‘I’ll do this for a couple of years and then it’ll probably be over, because there’s not that many places.’ But we’re in the middle of a food revolution, which is awesome. I mean, [my generation] lived through that era of the '80s and '90s of mass-produced food. It wasn’t an experience. I lived in France when I was 16—I was an exchange student—and the whole focus at school was what was for lunch. And the whole focus when you went home was what was for dinner; sitting down enjoying dinner. Talking and taking in courses, all this stuff. When I see [that] coming here in this food revolution, I’m thrilled. And to be the guy who gets to chronicle it, I mean, it’s like being on the edge of the big stories.
You film at multiple locations per day. How hard is that one your body?
I’ll give you the little secret: I don’t—I can’t—eat it all. Don’t get me wrong, I want to. They sometimes have to pry it out of my hands. They grab the Pho bowl out of my hands and everybody starts eating it. So I have a real regiment about when I eat, what I eat, how I eat, how much I work out. I bring my gym clothes. I’m no fun on the road! I drink my vegetable juice in the morning. We actually bring the juicer with us. I have my Americano. We shoot a location. As soon as I get back, I go to the gym. I’m in bed by nine o’clock. And I have to do that, because I have a real responsibility. This is their one time that they’re going to be on The Food Network.
Triple D is just one of your shows. You also have Guy’s Grocery Games and Guy's Ranch Kitchen, plus a whole fleet of restaurants and a handful of books. Do you ever miss just cooking?
Oh geez. It’s the thing I still love the most. I’ve told my wife many times that it’s going to end up, at the end of the day, with us going to live down in some country—maybe even in the United States—and on the days that the restaurant is open, I’m going to put the red flag out on the front porch. Food will always be my center.