When the iconic, cherry-red Camaro pulls up in front of Chaps and Cake, people crane their necks, as though they expect to find the president — or Jesus — behind the wheel.
They have been waiting almost two hours now for even a glimpse.
Most have come from around the area. Many are friends of owners Celeste Shaw and Gina Garcia. A few, though, made a trip of it.
One woman came over from the Seattle area when a relative who lives here told her who was coming.
“We just love Guy,” she says to anyone who will listen. Those who traveled came because, in a strange way, the man everyone expects to be in the cherry-red Camaro is kinda like President Jesus. With his bleached porcupine coif, bowling shirts and distinct lack of hauteur, he has brought change to the Food Network’s lineup of wonky, prissy, girl-centric cooking shows, skewing their primetime toward testosterone. In doing so, he has delivered unto the network more male viewers than they’ve ever had. And more middle Americans.
If he hasn’t exactly multiplied loaves and fishes, he’s at least increased the number of people interested in baking and filleting.
The numbers of his faithful can, and do, fill Caesars Atlantic City to hear him speak. When on vacation, these people hit the interstates and back roads of America, visiting the unassumingly delicious, scratch-prepared restaurants profiled on his show. There is a fan site dedicated to mapping their locations.
On this day in late August, as an early morning chill burns off in the direct heat of a cloudless noon hour, people crane their necks because Guy Fieri — host of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, patron saint of “dude food” — is expected in Latah Valley.
The road to get here was a long one. For Fieri, it began with winning The Next Food Network Star in 2006. Within four years, he had created and helmed three shows on the network en route to achieving Howie Mandel-type crossover fame as host of Minute to Win It on NBC.
For his production crew, Page Productions, based in Minneapolis, the road began with putting in calls to local media (including The Inlander), which led to calls to individual business owners, which led to more calls before one final conference call and then — somewhere in there — a make-or-break moment. We’d love for you to be on our show. One thing, though: Guy will need your secret recipes.
Page Productions called Todd Hudson, of Hudson’s Hamburgers in Coeur d’Alene, as early as March 2009, when the show was headed to Boise. Hudson says he kindly asked them to look at a map. After having done so, they called back this year.
Hudson’s was on their short list for the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area, but, for Todd, giving up the recipe to his secret sauces was a deal-breaker. “I don’t think [they’d] ever heard ‘no’ before,” he says.
“[They] said, ‘just give me your ingredients, not the quantities,’ I still said no.”
Other places didn’t get that far. As free-spirited as “Triple-D” often seems, it isn’t Vietnam. Guy has rules.
Aloha Island Grill was nixed for using frozen chicken. Dolly’s wasn’t doing enough from scratch. Charlie P’s hadn’t been in business long enough. Sweetie Pie Café went all the way through the conference call, only to be stood up on date night — Marilyn Blair says she doesn’t know why her restaurant wasn’t picked.
In all, though, over half of the restaurants approached fit the bill, and most of those played ball with the secret sharing. Of 15 restaurants we were able to find that had dealings with Page Productions, seven of them (see sidebar) ended up getting to dance with Guy.
Each of these places went through two days of shooting. On the first, the crew shot B-roll, or background footage. On the second, Guy came along to do his thing. On that day, restaurants were asked to close down completely. Then they were asked to fill themselves back up with friends, neighbors — anyone, really. Owners were told the crew needed a controlled environment that didn’t feel like a controlled environment. They also needed good interview subjects.
That’s generally when the man-magic happened.When the people craned their necks to watch the Camaro drive up, they found Fieri wasn’t behind the wheel of it. He has a man for that.
The host was actually already cloistered inside Chaps, doing take after take of interviews and prep shots. When the camera wasn’t on him, Fieri slumped in an occasional chair, mirrored sunglasses hanging off the back of his head, poking absently at his iPad.
Fieri emerged once the Camaro had been parked and polished, reciting a 20-second walk-and-talk about the story behind Chaps. He did about nine takes. He nailed it on the eighth, but did another for insurance. Then they moved to the patio area so Fieri could chat with Shaw. Everyone milling about was asked to sit as scenery. Between takes, the director reminded everyone to not look at the camera, or at Guy, or at Shaw, or at anything but the person across the table … and just. Act. Natural.
Finally, the production moved inside where people were seated four or six to a table and handed food randomly (either a scone, mushroom soup, or a stuffed pork chop). Fieri went to the first man, “What do you think of the, uh, pork chop?” “Now that I know that it’s a pork chop,” the man said, he thought it was quite good.
Later, Fieri was offended by the watch being worn by a man named Bo Cooke. “My contract says that no one else here can have a bigger watch than me.” Cooke took his watch off and handed it to Fieri, who took his time returning it. Once the laughter died down, Fieri asked Cooke why he liked it here, and Cooke spoke eloquently about Chaps being the kind of place that creates such community you don’t simply feel like you’re experiencing family dining — you feel like part of Shaw’s family.
Fieri got quiet for a moment, then said, “Man, that’s what Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is all about.” Then he apologized for making fun of the man’s watch.
With reporting contributed by Tiffany Harms
Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives featuring Chaps Coffee Co. • Mon., Nov. 1, at 10 pm • Food Network • (other Spokane restaurants will be featured during the next three to six months)