I traded some property many years ago and bought an older country home in Healdsburg just out of town. I rented this house to a young couple with one child. The husband Nick approached me one day with a need to store a boat in my equipment shed for a couple of friends who were coming into town to open up a new restaurant. I was already housing a boat for Nick in my shed. I told Nick I would have to think about it as I had an array of tractors that I need stored out of the weather. I didn’t really know if I had room for another boat. About a week later, I went to the property which now had been planted to grapes. Right there in the equipment shed was another boat.
I corralled up Nick and asked WTF is going on here with the second boat in my shed? His reply was that his two friends came to town and needed a place to store the boat as he had previously discussed with me. And the day they came to town it was raining and surely, I would not like to have it rain on the boat. At this time I had no knowledge of who the two people were and I was not shot in the butt to have a second boat in my shed.
Nick assured me that the two friends were going to open up a restaurant named Johnny Garlic’s and as soon as the restaurant was open, I would be able to eat free at the restaurant. I pressured Nick and soon found out the names of his friends as Steve Gruber and Guy Fieri. Twenty years ago, the names meant nothing to me other than they had a boat in my shed.
True to the prediction from Nick, Steve and Guy opened up Johnny Garlic’s Restaurant on the Southeast side of Santa Rosa. This was some 20 years ago. I was also invited to come and eat free in trade for the boat rental. Shirley and I took up the offer went for dinner and for the first time met Steve and Guy. The motif was all centered around garlic. As I remember the menu had many dishes with garlic. It was a fun place to go. And the restaurant was full.
My tenant Nick decided to move to a larger house with now two children. My contact was directly with either Steve or Guy. And a short time later either one or the other contacted me about storing another piece of equipment. They had opened up a second restaurant in Windsor as well as a catering business. The catering business required several trailers and the city of Windsor did not like them parking the trailers next to the restaurant. I had outside space at an adjoining vineyard block that was used mainly for loading grapes for a short period. Before long I had three catering trailers, an equipment trailer and a steam cleaning trailer all stored in my loading area.
Guy and Steve’s business was going strong. They opened more restaurants in Petaluma, downtown Santa Rosa, Pleasanton and in the Sacramento area. I saw less and less of Guy and more of Steve. At some point I found a motor home stored on my loading area. I had negotiated a payback formula for the times Shirley and I could eat free at any of Garlic’s, As well as Tex Wasabi’s
I can’t remember when Guy became a star. He had at some time vanished from contact with me. The last time I saw him just mingling was at the Sonoma County Wine Awards program at the fairgrounds. The fair had leaked that Guy would be attending. I was working with some FFA students at the side door. Suddenly Guy appeared with an entourage of people. Guy recognized me and spoke to me, introduced me to his wife Lori. By this time, he was surrounded with people who wanted their picture with Guy, now identified by his exotic hairdo and clothes.
Sunset magazine had an annual tour of their gardens in Redwood City for years. Shirley has always wanted to go to it. Ironically several years ago Guy was invited to put on a food demonstration at one of their many venues held on the date of the open house tour. I checked on line and his cooking demonstration was sold out. Shirley elected to attend one of the other demonstrations. Not wanting to miss a presentation by Guy, I called Steve. He returned my call and instructed me to go to the back of the stage where Guy was going to speak and Guy would meet me there and arrange a seat for me. So, a few minutes before showtime I saw Guy and he had arranged for me to sit on stage in one of the elevated chairs that sometimes directors sit in. So here I am sitting right behind Guy Fieri before some 500 people. Guy was preparing some food from his own recipe. The sad thing is that the County would not allow the food to be sampled due to not having an approved kitchen on stage. A friend of mine heads the Center for Food at UC Berkley. She states 43% of prepared food at restaurants are discarded.
My relationship with the boys continued for years. Inexpediently, I read in our local paper that Steve and Guy were separating the business. I should have seen this coming; Guy was now a super food star while Steve stayed behind managing the now six or seven restaurants. I called Steve and discussed our relationship and was assured that nothing would change. The article in the local paper so upset me that I wrote a letter to the Editor which was printed. My point being that this was similar to a couple getting a divorce.
Not much later I did notice some change. The beverage people were taking the soda dispensers out of the catering/fair trailers. About that time the Farmer’s Lane restaurant closed, followed by Windsor. The trailers were sold. And I recently opened up the paper and Tex Wasabi’s is shuttered. I don’t know about the other stores.
As Marshall Grant wrote “I was there when it started.”