The untold truth of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

If you're even a casual cable television flipper, there's no doubt you've stumbled across at least one episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the road-style documentary series on the Food Network that's helped to shine a light on some of the hardest working, creative, and capable small-town cooks in the country. "Triple-D," as it's affectionately known, celebrates the independent restauranteurs that help define the local flavors of this great nation, and give it character.  

And at the center of this celebration of great food, hard work, and that good old-fashioned American can-do spirit sits Guy Fieri, that catchphrase-spouting uber-bro whose entire "look" seems to be designed to be as grating as possible to every one of your senses. But whether you love him or loathe him, you have to hand it to Fieri; he helped build the show from the ground up, delivering a flagship program for the Food Network which transformed it from a stodgy series of boring cooking shows into the top cable network in its demographic, with legions of loyal fans willing to spend big bucks on branded cookware, serving platters, and table runners. 

So how did it get started, how do they find that never-ending supply of "funky little joints," and what happens to those food spots after the crew packs up and leaves? Plus, what's it really like to work with Guy Fieri? Here's everything you need to know. We're rollin' out! Lookin' for the greatest... untold truths of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives pilot was basically a one-shot show

The Hearty Boys became famous for a brief time in 2005. Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh won Season 1 of Food Networks Next Food Network Star reality show. They had a show on Food Network — Party Line with the Hearty Boys — for a little more than a year. Still doesn't ring a bell? Don't feel bad if you don't remember them. Most winners of Next Food Network Star don't seem to go on to actually become stars ... with one big exception.

Guy Fieri and his frosted tips won Season 2 of Next Food Network Star, which led to his own show, Guy's Big Bite. Around that same time, David Page had an idea for a program that would focus on diners, drive-ins, and dive restaurants. The Food Network powers decided to give Guy a shot at hosting. The pilot took 21 days to shoot. The core of the show is there and it certainly has the feel of what Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives became, but it's still a little raw in presentation. Despite that, the hour-long special did well enough to lead to a full season.

The first location featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was a diner in New Jersey

Guy has pulled his antique Camaro up to literally thousands of different restaurants over the years. But did you ever wonder which one was the very first? That honor falls to the Bayway Diner in Linden, New Jersey, where the first scene for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was ever shot. This unassuming classic chrome diner was where Fieri and producers worked out the basic ingredients for a show that would last for over a decade, where scratch-made food, a few made-up catch phrases, some peroxide, and a few Dickies work shirts are poured in one end, and what comes out the other side is pure television gold. 

The effect on the diner was swift and profound. The diner got so popular after being featured on the pilot that owner Mike Giunta expanded seating to a tent outside his tiny diner, and launched a food truck and adjoining catering business to keep up with the relentless demand from the flood of customers and fans.

How they find those funky joints featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

Have you ever been to a restaurant and thought, "This place should be on Triple-D!" Well, there's an easy way to throw your favorite local joint into the fray. The Triple-D website has a submission page, complete with a running tab of fan write-ups.

Another method used is a bit less arbitrary. Often, when honing in on a town, producers will contact food writers to find out what places serve up the best grub. That helps reveal some excellent hidden gems. The theme they're looking for is pretty basic: something off the wall. As Guy often says, "If it's funky, we'll find it." Generally, an ethnic place in an unexpected spot works. Fusion restaurants are also popular. But not like a Scottish place serving American fare. (McDonald's?) It would be more in the range of Abdullah the Butcher's old restaurant.

Filming Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives takes a few days

You probably realized that Guy doesn't literally roll up to a diner, drive-in, or dive, hop out, and start dropping catchphrases and hunching over to disconnect his lower jaw to scarf down a meal. Recording television programs takes time.

The general idea is to hit as many locations in a city as possible, although most probably won't air in the same episode. A crew will arrive at the chosen restaurant a few days or so before Fieri to get some required close-ups and general cooking. When you notice that Guy is narrating the chefs' actions during those 48-hour sequences of smoking meat, it's because they already filmed most of the prep work. The shooting follows a tight script, but there is some improv. That madcap, off-the-cuff wit is all Guy doing his thing, playing off the situation, and coming up with the yucks.

Things get intense for the restaurants featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives before Guy even shows up

The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives formula has been well-honed by now: A small, unassuming, locally-beloved restaurant is plugging away, stuffing hatch chiles into meatloaves in relative obscurity. Guy Fieri whips into town in his Camaro, drops a few catch phrases, spray-paints his face on the wall, and boom: Superstardom ensues. And while the so-called "Triple-D effect" is profound, skyrocketing a restaurant's popularity and doubling volume seemingly overnight, things get intense behind the scenes well before Fieri ever sets foot on set. 

While the magic of editing makes Guy's appearance seem like a complete coincidence, a visit to a location actually takes months of planning. First, the restaurant owner spends hours on the phone with writers and producers, pitching their establishments and developing some sort of storyline around the location. The production team scouts each restaurant extensively, and the owners must agree to close for a few days to allow for filming. If all goes according to plan, the business is then submitted to Fieri, who must give final approval on each location. After all that, if your eatery is approved, you're issued a warning, says one restaurant owner featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: "When you get the call that they are going through with it, they warn you: This will change your business forever..."

Restaurants get very popular after being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

Should your restaurant make it on the show, get ready for the wave. Southern Soul Barbecue on St. Simons Island, Georgia, didn't believe it when told to "be ready for a 200 percent increase in business." But you know what? It happened. The allure of eating at a joint where Guy ate is great, and the show has paid tribute to fans who travel around just to visit as many Triple-D restaurants as possible. Triple-D restaurants generally let everyone know they were on the show, as it's a badge of honor of sorts for good, funky food. Even the Food Network official site plays up the food in delicious click-bait form. But to the restaurant it's just another chance at free publicity; basically if you land on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, you're being handed a golden goose.

Some restaurants don't make it after being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

But you know what? It's easy to mess up goose. Nothing in life is guaranteed, and even a visit from the Frosted Tips Fairy (Ferry?) can't keep everything going. A significant number of Triple-D alums have shuttered their doors. Of course, that's out of Triple-D's control; it's not Guy's fault the keg had mold in it. But when you think about it, at over 260 episodes and three restaurants per episode, the quick math says around 800 restaurants made an appearance. You're bound to have a few close down through the years.

Cracking Guy Fieri's code on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

If there's one universally justifiable annoyance, it's Guy Fieri's sanguine reactions. It seems like Guy would go to hell and rave about how warm it was. But is Guy truly raving about the food, or is he subliminally telling you what he really thinks?

Some people think there's a Guy Code: tiny little ticks, words, and reactions to tell you what he really thinks. If Guy takes a big bite and immediately starts talking about the decor of the place, or how tall the chef is, the dish is probably low-grade dog food. Occasionally, Guy will actually cook the meal for the chef in a different way. He's essentially saying, "Do it this way." That's a dead giveaway it was awful.

So if he really likes the dish? There are two stages of Guy nirvana. The first is an extra bite. If Guy only takes one bite, there's a good chance he didn't like the dish. If he takes two, you can guarantee it's a winner. Guy will suddenly start talking about how good he feels while eating the dish. If Guy takes it a step further, he gives "that look" — maybe asking the chef to hold and cuddle him — that's an award-winning dish. Guy will often openly proclaim that he wished he came up with a dish or will say he's "stealing" it. Those are the places you simply must try because that's the top of the Triple-D mountain.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was created by a former investigative news producer

For a piece of food programming to become as wildly successful as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives has been over its nearly 30 season run, you'd think it would have to have been assembled by a crack team of grizzled Food Network executives, cynically applying their shared knowledge of decades of programming to produce the perfect show, designed to be addictive and impossible for viewers to turn off. Right? RIGHT? 

Not so, says Alan Sarkin in his book From Scratch: Inside the Food NetworkAccording to the book, series creator David Page was working as an investigative news producer for ABC and NBC when he decided to make the leap into food-related programming, eventually working with Al Roker on specials for the Food Network. He spent months pitching show ideas to Food Network programming executive Christianna Reinhardt, before striking television gold in 2006 (and dooming us to entire lost weekends glued to rerun marathons) with Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives had an ugly lawsuit with a producer

Calling David Page simply a producer is quite an insult. At worst he is the creator of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and at his very worst he's the ultimate thorn in the side of Guy Fieri. From its pilot episode, Page served as executive producer up to Season 11. Page came from a news background, has a couple Emmys on his CV, and had a rep for being a bit confrontational. Seemingly out of the blue — in his mind at least — Fieri stopped taking his calls and didn't show for voice-over recordings. The next thing Page knew, he was fired. And he blamed Guy.

Page did something as all-American as a drive-in; he sued the daylights out of Food Network and Fieri. Food Network then countersued to the tune of $1.5 million. The Food Network claim said Page was such a jerk that working with him became intolerable. Page basically said it was all Guy's fault because he didn't show up to do his job. As it usually happens in these situations, the two sides settled and the show went on without Page. But it did do a bit of damage to the Guy Fieri brand.

Guy Fieri has attracted negative attention for his controversial remarks on the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives set

It seems that in the Guy Fieri lexicon, it's not always "flavortown" this and "bomb dot com" that. Lurking deep in the back alleys of Fieri's brain, there's allegedly a pretty hearty homophobic streak, as well. According to City Pages, the jovial television personality gets a little darker behind-the-scenes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, with anti-semitic and homophobic remarks seemingly par for the course. Allegedly

"Fieri also needed protection from homosexuals, or at least advance warning," the City Pages report reads. "Early in the show's run, [producer David] Page got a phone call from Fieri, who'd just walked out of a restaurant in a huff. 'Guy had decided that the two men running the restaurant were life partners,'" Page remembers. "He said, 'You can't send me to talk to gay people without warning! Those people weird me out!”"

Needless to say, the response to the allegations from both Guy Fieri and the Food Network was swift, claiming that the story was baseless and without merit. In a public statement, Team Fieri responded, "Guy's reputation speaks for itself. He's a standup guy who does right by people. He would never make the kind of comments attributed to him in this story, and anyone who knows or has even met him knows that."

What about that red convertible on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives?

Practically every episode begins with a red convertible cruising down an unsuspecting piece of earth. Inside the sweet ride. a voice bellows, "I'm Guy Fieri AND I'M NOT SHOUTING!" The car sets the tone for what the show is going for; that cool, hip vibe that screams, "You want all of this."

The regular car is a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro with a ZZ502 crate engine under the hood. Packing 505 horsepower and 567 foot-pounds of torque, it's no wonder Guy shouts. There are car nuts that tune in just to see Guy's ride. Those same car nuts also know something that only those with a keen eye caught: there have been two red Camaros. The original was a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro. In the early days, they actually drove the '67 Camaro to the restaurants from city to city. Nowadays, they ship the '68 Camaro. Guy owns the current Camaro, while a former producer owned the original. And his story is part of the reason why there's a new car.

You can plan a road trip around Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives locations

Picture it: You're in a rented green Kia Sorrento that smells like cigar smoke and half-eaten sandwiches, making the 250 mile slog from Tallahassee to Orlando with a car full of kids who are primed to explode if they don't get some Disney magic coursing through their veins, stat. You've eaten at McDonald's five times on your cross-country journey so far, and you know that you're one McNugget away from a massive coronary. You want some home-cooked food made with love and care, and you want to meet some interesting characters along the way. Now, what was the name of that Cuban place you saw on Triple-D that one time? Wasn't that somewhere near here? 

Thankfully, several fan-run websites have popped up over the legendary 29-season run of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that will allow you to drop into any of the restaurants featured on the show, no matter where in the country you happen to be. Heck, you could plan an entire road trip around Triple-D locations, stopping for barbecue in Atlanta for dinner, and then pressing on to Charleston for jalapeño scrambled eggs by morning.

Celebrities pop up unexpectedly on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

If you've toiled for years under the false impression that Guy Fieri was the lead singer of Smash Mouth, you're not alone. After all, he bears more than a passing resemblance to band frontman Steve Harwell; spiky, bottle-blonde hair, ill-advised facial hair shaved into unfortunate patterns, SoCal roots, general jowliness, and a penchant for pairing color-blocked bowling shirts with baggy shorts might lead the casual observer to think that Fieri himself was the crooner behind such hits as "Walkin' on the Sun" and... other hits. 

It wasn't until Harwell's surprise appearance on a 2010 episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (when Fieri referred to Harwell as his "brother from another mother") that we realized: There's TWO of them. But Harwell wasn't the only celebrity to grace the doorstep of Triple-D. Throughout the years, the show has had a number of celebrity guest appearances, including Matthew McConaughey, Kid Rock, Chris Rock, and Adam Sandler.

A fan once paid $100,000 to create a fantasy episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri

Strike it filthy stinking rich, and many would argue that your newfound riches come with something of a social responsibility; that you should use your good fortune to build schools in impoverished areas, help fund research for an obscure incurable disease, or otherwise put your money to work for the advancement of mankind. 

But billionaire hedge fund manager (and Guy Fieri superfan) Steve Cohen decided to burn through a tiny fraction of his wealth in a different way: He paid $100,000 to be Fieri's bro for a day, during which they drove around Cohen's home state of Connecticut and visited various diners, re-enacting a "fantasy episode" of Triple-D. The two became actual friends, and Fieri eventually visited Cohen's favorite place for hot dogs, Fairfield's Super Duper Weenie (where you don't have to be a billionaire to spend $3.75 on a hot dog), on a real episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Anthony Bourdain hated Guy Fieri

Sometimes vitriol becomes sublime. Guy Fieri is not a chef, he has a B.A. in hotel management from UNLV yet managed to beat out pro chefs on a reality show to become famous. It seems like the kind of story people want to happen: the little guy who has a face for radio becomes the TV star and takes over the world.

Instead, it is required that if you have a voice in media you must detest Guy Fieri. But let's be real, you're nothing unless the late Anthony Bourdain called you a douche. Bourdain hating Fieri was the ultimate "dog bites man" headline. But when Bourdain said he had no hate for Guy? Man bites dog. Sure he called him "low-hanging fruit," but for a guy who made Larry David look like an eternal optimist, a semi-mea culpa is a miracle.

Then two months later, Bourdain declared that Guy was as "worthy of a solid and maybe relentless mocking as anyone." Well, that was fun while it lasted. Guy was generally on the high road when it came to Bourdain and other critics. Fieri occasionally let off a "gotta have issues" retort about Bourdain, but do you expect Guy to really get that salty about Bourdain? He won't even criticize a bad meal.

Long before Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy Fieri got his start on TV hawking mufflers

Long before anyone had thought to prop sunglasses on the backs of their heads (you know, opposite the location of your eyes, conveniently located in the front), and before every American in the country knew what "Donkey Sauce" was, Triple-D frontman Guy Fieri got his start on television in a different way: hawking Flowmaster mufflers in 2001.

Fieri's stilted muffler pitch is a far cry from the lingo-heavy, stream-of-consciousness style he would later bring to his hit Food Network shows, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives included. The YouTube video reveals a more conservative, buttoned-up Fieri (though observant viewers will note the pitchman's signature screaming yellow locks, bursting to be set free from the constraints of a black Flowmaster baseball cap), sporting a blue mechanic's shirt and talking like a sort of normal human person. Weirdly, Flowmaster didn't seem willing to let Fieri be Fieri, insisting on a more professional presentation that may have moved a lot of mufflers, but never managed to get America talking quite in the way that Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives does every single day.