Three Modesto eateries got one-way tickets to Flavortown on Wednesday as Food Network star Guy Fieri came to film his series “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
The celebrity chef and TV host recorded at Modesto’s Bauer’s 66 1/2 Skillet & Grill, Food Fix Truck and Commonwealth Gastropub. His popular Food Network series, which launched in 2007, has Fieri travel around the county visiting local restaurants and sampling their fare. This is Fieri’s first time shooting the program, known by fans as Triple D, in Modesto.
Production teams had been in town earlier this week shooting interior shots of the restaurants, which were selected from recommendations submitted online. Fieri, who lives in Santa Rosa and grew up in Humbolt County, arrived in town Wednesday and spent close to six hours filming in the city. His crew declined comment on his appearance, but news of his arrival soon spread, and small crowds – which grew throughout the day – followed him around to his shoots.
Filming started in the late morning at Bauer’s on the north end of McHenry Village shopping center. Fieri’s signature fire-engine-red 1968 Chevy Camaro SS Convertible was parked in front of the restaurant, and a crowd of employees and would-be diners gathered outside as filming began. An employee was overheard saying she believed Fieri would be trying at least its nine-cheese mac and cheese topped with panko breadcrumbs and its Lamburgherini, which is ground leg of lamb topped with arugula, gorgonzola, bacon and mushrooms with a sweet and spicy sauce.
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Song Tran, who owns the Magic Nails salon just a couple of doors down, said Fieri was being very nice to the people who gathered outside the restaurant to spot the celebrity. She said she’s enjoyed eating at Bauer’s and, had Fieri asked for a recommendation, would have told him to try the blackened salmon salad. “I’m a salad person,” Tran said.
One of the restaurant’s immediate neighbors is Barber Salon McHenry Village, formerly known as Richard’s. Barber Edward Lind said Fieri stopped by and, on a customer’s phone, took some snapshots with folks who were in the shop. He also filmed himself coming out of the barber shop.
Lind, who’s cut hair in the center for 40 years and used to own the barber shop, said he was unfamiliar with Fieri but intends to watch the show. He was told it would air sometime during the last two weeks of February or the first two weeks of March.
And what did the barber think of Fieri’s trademark shock of bleach-blond hair? “If he let me go at it, I’d bring him back into civilization,” Lind said. “Some guys like it like that, and when you get done cutting, you gel it and rough it up. I could make it look good, but he probably wouldn’t like it.”
Modesto resident Jaime Moreno was one of the people waiting outside Bauer’s for a chance to eat on camera. He is friends with restaurant owner Tye Bauer, who opened the restaurant about six years ago.
“This place has been really good for a long time,” he said. “So it’s good to get some recognition. He deserves it.”
After spending more than an hour filming inside Bauer’s, Fieri left in a black Mercedes van limousine to go to his next stop – the Food Fix Truck. The eatery on wheels has called the parking lot at Warden’s Outlet Center on North Ninth Street its home for the past eight months. Chef and owner Hank Olson opened the food truck thanks in part to a Kickstarter campaign in early 2015. It specializes in oversize sandwiches including the Porkstrami on a homemade pretzel roll, which was one of the items Fieri tried.
This is Olson’s second brush with Food Network star fame. In March 2015, celebrity chef and TV host Alton Brown ate at there and signed the front of his truck before a scheduled appearance at downtown Modesto’s Gallo Center for the Arts.
All of the restaurants were closed to the public during filming, but family and friends of the owners were asked to pose as customers. Fieri was shown interacting with the chefs and chatting with diners at each stop. Between the locations, a production assistant drove and tended to the Camaro, which remained covered by a tarp until just before it was time to shoot. Fieri – who changed shirts between each restaurant – never drove the car, and instead only exited or closed its door for the camera.
His final location for the day was the Commonwealth craft pub on 11th Street between J and K streets, where he arrived just before 2 p.m. A small crowd of nearly a dozen was already there; it swelled to more than 50 toward the end of his stay. People lined the sidewalk and leaned over balconies at Tenth Street Place to catch a glimpse of the famous foodie. Drivers honked their approval as they went by, and Fieri even jokingly told one of them “no cruising,” in reference to the city’s anti-cruising ordinance.
“I heard he was filming in town and had to come out. I honestly think it is great. This will create buzz for those places in Modesto and hopefully show us in a more positive light,” said Ceres resident Stephanie Couto, who watches the show regularly with her 12-year-old son, Michael. The family has even traveled to visit some of the other restaurants Fieri has featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in the Bay Area and Sacramento.
Before Fieri stepped outside to film an intro coming out of his Camaro at Commonwealth, a production manager asked the crowd to please stay quiet because “he is improvising and does his comedy off the top of his head.”
Fieri could be overheard talking about Commonwealth’s owners, childhood friends and Beyer High School graduates Jeff Brown and Blake Humble, who moved back to Modesto to raise their families. He called their story “the American dream.”
The restaurant owners could not comment on the filming, and have not been told when the show will air. It could take as long as six months to a year for the Modesto “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” episode to be broadcast. Fieri posed with the owners and families at each eatery before stepping into his limousine with smiles or waves to the gathered fans.
“We’re definitely getting together and watching the episode when it airs,” said Enochs High junior Ashley Maki, who came with a group of friends to see Fieri. They left with several shots of his car and of the spiky-haired chef.
After spending about two hours inside Commonwealth, Fieri was off again. One of his entourage was overheard saying that the TV personality would be filming in Stockton on Thursday. Before leaving, someone in the crowd thanked him for coming to Modesto and he responded, “It’s a great town.”
Bee Staff Writer Deke Farrow contributed to this report.