The Untold Truth Of Gina Neely

In the 2000s and 2010s, when foodie culture in all of its forms reached such a fever pitch that the Food Network was churning out bonafide stars with great regularity — Guy Fieri, Paula Deen, Ina Garten, and Rachael Ray among them — a pair of married, extremely likable and engaging barbecue restaurant entrepreneurs from Tennessee named Pat and Gina Neely were all over the channel. After its premiere in 2008, "Down Home with the Neelys" instantly became one of the most-watched shows in Food Network's weekend block of cooking programming, not to mention one of the highest-rated debuts in network history (via Jet). It was easy to see why. The Neelys demystified comfort food, Southern food classics, and top-notch barbecue, showing millions of viewers at home how to do it themselves, all while projecting an aura of fun and wedded bliss.

"Down Home with the Neelys" ended its long and dominant run on Food Network after 11 seasons, with both Pat and Gina Neely going on to make big changes in their lives both personally and professionally. Gina Neely especially is rewriting her life into something even more remarkable than what it was before. Here's a look at the rise, talents, evolution, and untold truth of Gina Neely.

Gina Neely didn't really want to be a TV food personality

On television, the Neelys presented an image of equal partners in both life and food, with both Pat and Gina demonstrating a level of expertise with barbecue and all-American food on their Food Network series, "Down Home with the Neelys." But before the series entered production, it was primarily Pat Neely who knew his way around a kitchen, as he was part of a multi-generational family of cooks and restaurant operators who ran several barbecue outlets in Tennessee, according to Food Network

"He was in business for about ten years before I came onboard," Gina Neely told Working Mother. And while she helped Pat run things, she didn't necessarily look to bigger and bolder duties in the restaurant kitchen or beyond. "I never wanted to be a TV chef," Gina Neely told People. "I was a branch manager at a bank."

Even when she did actually become a chef on the small screen, Gina Neely still wasn't interested in that life and was uncomfortable with the implications of being on TV. "I would cocoon myself" and cry before shooting episodes, she told People.

The affection on Down Home was exaggerated

The Neelys were #couplegoals for many viewers who witnessed them cooking in the kitchen together. The two were almost constantly kissing, hugging, and snuggling one another amidst all the smoked pork and spice blends. As it turns out, that wasn't all genuine, or at least it was a little bit forced for the sake of the cameras. 

In 2014, according to TMZ, Gina Neely filed for divorce from Pat Neely, her husband of 19 years, following a two-year separation. That means that during the final seasons of "Down Home with the Neelys," the couple that looked so perfect on TV were no longer a couple at all.

Sources close to the Neelys told TMZ that their marriage was headed for divorce by the time "Down Home" entered production, and that the rigors of the show and fame only made their relationship suffer more. "I was going to divorce Pat prior to the show," Neely told People. "And then all of a sudden the train jumped on the track and I had to hold on for my life."

Gina Neely divorced Pat Neely and never looked back

Gina Neely later told OWN's "Where Are They Now?" that she realized her marriage was beyond repair in the early years of "Down Home with the Neelys." "He felt like we didn't spend enough time together. I felt like we did and we needed a little space," she said (via People).

Still, the Neelys tried to save their relationship, attending therapy together about a dozen times before Gina Neely realized she was done. "I tried to leave five times and I just didn't have the strength but the fifth time I held on to that. It became necessary for me to find my path." 

That split was at least a very clean one, by all accounts. In 2018, four years after her split from her husband, Gina Neely told People that she hadn't spoken with Pat Neely since she left. "I don't wish him any harm, but he's never reached out to me. I guess he's well?" Co-parenting or child support battles never became an issue, as the couple's two daughters were well into adulthood by the time Pat and Gina Neely broke up.

Gina Neely's barbecue restaurants closed down

By the time they became big Food Network stars as experts on Southern-style comfort cooking and barbecue especially, Gina and Pat Neely had opened two restaurants in Memphis and a third satellite location (a concession stand at the FedExForum sports arena). According to Grub Street, every one of those Neely's Bar-B-Que outlets shut down temporarily in the fall of 2012 for corporate restructuring and re-evaluation. But in July 2012, the Neelys announced that the closures were permanent. "We're gone so much and involved in so many projects that it's been really difficult to concentrate on the restaurants here like we need to," Neely told the Memphis Commercial Appeal (via Grub Street).

In a statement on social media at the time, the Neelys reminded fans and customers that they still operated Neely's Barbecue Parlor in New York, which had opened in 2011. It would continue to stay open in spite of the other closures, but not for very long. In October 2015, according to Eater New York, Neely's Barbecue Parlor shut down forever. At the outset, it received poor reviews, with rumors of its closure surfacing a mere two months after it opened.

What Gina Neely really thinks of Paula Deen

One of the biggest and most powerful stars on Food Network in the mid-2000s was Southern food expert Paula Deen. Her empire eventually expanded to include her sons, Bobby and Jamie Deen, and Food Network ordered two seasons of their food travelogue series "Road Tasted." In one Season 1 episode from 2006, the Deens stopped into Nashville and met Pat and Gina Neely, then best known as two married barbecue restaurant operators who were as physically affectionate as their food was tasty (which is to say, extremely). About two years later, the Neelys debuted their own Food Network series, "Down Home with the Neelys."

In 2013, when past racially insensitive remarks made by Deen came to light, Gina and Pat Neely tried to distance themselves. "We were shocked and saddened to learn of the comments from Paula Deen. Racism of any kind from anyone is simply unacceptable and cannot be tolerated," the Neelys said in a statement (via ET Online).

Gina Neely later reflected on her relationship with Deen during a 2018 appearance on Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen." "I didn't really take it to heart because I think people are just mimicking what they know and what they've seen," Neely said. "However, I think that she needed some diversity training for when she wasn't in front of the camera."

Gina Neely returned to TV and romance

With the exception of a lost episode airing in January 2014, the last stretch of original "Down Home with the Neelys" installments finished airing on Food Network in the spring of 2012. About two years later, Gina Neely announced her divorce from husband Pat Neely, also her cooking show co-star. After taking a few years off, Gina Neely was back, both romantically and professionally — and in a way that combined both pursuits. In 2018, Bravo debuted "To Rome for Love," a documentary-style reality show in which relationship guru Diann Valentine took five single Black women with spotty love histories to the historic and romantic city of Rome. Arguably the biggest name in the cast was one Gina Neely.

"I want to find love again, love being in love," Neely told People about why she did the show, having not exactly found a soulmate after casually dating in the years following her divorce. "I want to get married again. I love being married. I'm not against marriage and I'm not against love."

And while she didn't ultimately find a lasting romantic spark with anyone on "To Rome for Love," the show at least got Neely back on television. In 2019, she began appearing in healthy eating and cooking segments on "The Dr. Oz Show," the popular syndicated daytime talk show (via IMDb).

Gina Neely's weight loss journey is complicated

Being around delicious, sugary, fatty barbecue and other classic American foods all day is generally not the ideal path for keeping one's weight down or under control. In 2013, according to People, Gina Neely decided that she wasn't happy with her figure and decided to dive into a weight-loss challenge sponsored and promoted by a company whose products she represented at the time. With the help of George Foreman Grills, which purport to both cook foods with less fat and drain fat off of those items, Neely transformed dramatically, losing 25 pounds in only 12 weeks. And then she kept going. When Neely deemed her weight loss journey complete, she had lost 35 pounds and found herself wearing size 0 clothes.

But then Neely thought she'd lost too much weight. Over the next half-decade, and as she entered her fifth decade, she purposely gained back some of the weight she had previous shed. "I was about to look like a bobblehead," Neely told People. "I think as we get older, we need a little weight on us to fill us out and make us look healthier." 

A major element of Neely's new regimen was how the comfort food icon changed the way she cooked and ate. "I made healthier food with ingredients that are still tasty but good for you; food that's light and fun," she said.