The name Guy Fieri is synonymous with "off the hook" food and, very often, his signature spiky blond hair. Whether you know him from the Food Network's shows, Guy's Big Bite or Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, NBC's show, Minute to Win It or from his Bay Area restaurants, you probably know that Fieri is a local boy with a passion for food and a heart made for giving back and helping others.
The restaurateur, chef, author, television personality and dad extraordinaire was in Dublin this week at his restaurant, Johnny Garlic's, and Dublin Patch got to spend time with the celebrity chef and his staff to find out how the first year-and-a-half has gone for Dublin's new kid in town.
Standing near one of the booths chatting with his staff, Fieri, clad in jeans and a t-shirt, had a contagious smile and a boisterous laugh to match. Fieri slid into the seat and immediately offered refreshments- in the hospitable style he is known for.
Since the opening of the restaurant in May of 2011, Johnny Garlic's has developed a huge following among Tri-Valley residents. After just about seventeen months of being open for business, the wait to eat at the restaurant is still about 45 minutes to an hour long, according to manager Michael Osterman.
Fieri had been to Pleasanton for the local car shows and although he did not know much about Dublin at the time, Fieri was excited about the potential location for the new restaurant. Fieri now has a love of Dublin and he is not shy to talk about it.
"We have had a great response and a great following." he said. "It [Dublin] is a neat place. There are a lot of kids and families. It is all the right people."
According to Osterman, the Dublin location, is the "biggest volume" restaurant of the seven. Not only is the Dublin location the biggest restaurant in size but it also has the highest traffic of visitors which, Osterman says, has a lot to do with the location.
"As soon as we walked in [to this location] we knew," he said.
Osterman says they love being in town and working with the City officials. He says the Dublin restaurant has "found it's groove and settled in."
"We have a great thing going," he said, smiling. "The city of Dublin is awesome."
Fieri says the Dublin restaurant, along with the other Johnny Garlic's locations, was designed with the guests in mind.
"It is exactly like the original concept 16 years ago," said Fieri. "Guests can come in business attire or after a ballgame or with kids. We designed this space with the nooks, booths and the bar for that reason. When I left the corporate restaurant world in 1996, I wanted to build my kind of restaurant with my food, my menu and my design. We wanted to offer a menu that was eclectic, price sensitive and catered to a wide range of people. I built it for what my needs are."
Osterman says the restaurant has developed a diverse group of regulars.
"We have a lot of families like couples in their late twenties with young children, older couples with college age kids, folks from Camps Parks, Oracle and Kaiser," said Osterman.
According to Fieri, the menu at the restaurant is revamped every six months with some type of change.
"We are always trying to continue to improve, always pushing ourselves and we try to stay contemporary," he commented.
The restaurant offers "creations not specials" and almost everything in the restaurant is made from scratch. While he is in the restaurant, Fieri says he will order fifteen or so dishes during the day to check the freshness, to see if the pasta is "al dente" and to check the components. He says he will bring the chef who made the dish over to talk about the execution of the dish.
"We really hold ourselves accountable," said Fieri. "Guest service is what we are about. The guest is why we are here."
Each of the seven Johnny Garlic's locations strives to host two fundraising events each month for their "Dine and Donate" program, which started years ago when Fieri invited local public figures to his restaurant to eat for free if they gave eight hours of their own time to a local charity called "Kid Street Theater."
According to Fieri, the "Dine and Donate" program is designed so that 25 percent of the proceeds from meals purchased that night is donated to a local charity. The most recent fundraising event to benefit juvenile diabetes, which raised over $35 thousand dollars during a bidding war to have a private dinner with Fieri, was held on Monday night.
Fieri had tickets to the big Giants game that night and since he was not able to attend, he gave them to a manager to use instead. Was Fieri upset about missing the game that sent the Giants to the World Series?
"My fans are the reasons I am doing what I am doing and it helps when I can take a bedroom community like Dublin and raise over $30 thousand dollars for juvenile diabetes- you gotta do it," he said. "I have a commitment to do the right thing."
Fieri's own charity, Cooking with Kids (part of the Guy Fieri Foundation), was born from his personal culinary passion to speak to the most common denominator of all the people- food.
"Cooking with Kids is anything to do with the promotion, evolution and development of kids' self-esteem and reliance associated with food," he commented. "Cooking is a life skill we need to have. When did we forget that what we eat is important? We are empowering kids through food."
The foundation also builds pretzel carts- a concept derived from Fieri's own childhood entrepreneurial start in the food business- to give to non-profits such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and local schools to teach and foster communication, salesmanship and customer service skills. The "Awesome Pretzel Carts" cost about $10 thousand dollars to build.
Fieri, a self-professed "worker," says the biggest priority in life are his two children.
"The hardest part of my job is being away from my kids," he said.
Fieri's key to success?
"Surround yourself with great people in your personal and professional life," said Fieri.