Thursday, September 15, 2011

Couple visits 250 DDD's, meets Guy Fieri

Three years ago, beginning on September 3, 2008, Ben and Barb Stillwagon started visiting some of the places that Guy Fieri had featured on his show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. They had tallied visits to 249 of the over 450 restaurants from the show, and on Wednesday, September 14, 2011, the Stillwagon's chose Guy Fieri's restaurant, Johnny Garlic's in Santa Rosa, CA as their 250th. Guy Fieri was there, and he and the Stillwagon's finally had a sit-down lunch to pour over their travel stories.

The Press Democrat reports, "They were greeted and fed, over-the-top generously, by Fieri, the Midas-touch superstar who was a flicker in the galaxy of Sonoma County restaurateurs until he followed a whim to enter the Next Food Network Star competition in 2005." The three culinary travelers were served garlic onion tortilla soup, Johnny Garlic's Caesar salad, coconut shrimp, Ahi Won Tacos and cajun chicken fettuccine.

The Stillwagons said that "their travels along the Fieri trail haven't been just about TV-touted diners and the food they serve, but about seeing America and having cause to visit far-flung kin and friends."

The Stillwagon's daughter, Tracy, wrote
What started as a few meals, some interesting stories and a couple of pictures ..., turned into a mission to visit as many of Guy's featured restaurants as possible and quicker than anybody else. My parents are so fortunate. They raised 3 beautiful, successful daughters ..., retired from their jobs at young ages, were able to save money so they could travel after their retirement and still have their health to pursue their dream. They have traveled from New York to California and back again to pursue their dream.....of meeting Guy Fieri.

We first heard of the Stillwagons in a State Journal Register story written by columnist Dave Bakke in March 2011. We contacted the family to let them know Guy Fieri would soon be touring through St. Louis, MO on May 28, 2011, on the Guy Fieri Road Show. The couple got "Off Da Hook" on-stage tickets with their family in the audience, but unfortunately the Stillwagons only had time to get a picture and an autographed book, but no real "time with Guy" like they had hoped. Guy did mention during his live show that the Stillwagons had visited 210 of the DDD restaurants, at that time.

Ben has said that one interesting insight has been how the national, repeat-airing exposure from Fieri's show has saved restaurants that previously struggled, allowed others to expand and caused some that were already popular to get accustomed to telling folks the wait will now be longer.

“Pretty much, he has tripled everybody's business,” Ben said.

It is important to note that in the three years we've been writing this blog, we've heard of NO ONE else who has been to so many of the places Guy has been to for his show. 100, yes a few. 150, even less than a few. But no one, not even close, to 250 DDD's. We've been writing and pestering Guy's agents for seven months to make this meeting happen, but can't claim any of the credit for the ultimate meeting. "The Mafieri," as I call them, ignored or denied our requests.

On Monday, September 12th, the Stillwagons arrived in Santa Rosa and stopped in at Johnny Garlic's to see if they could "talk to Guy". By a happy chance, Guy just happened to be there in a meeting, and the staff told them they could wait. Tracy writes, "Shortly after they got them chairs and a drink, Guy walked out of the meeting room and they FINALLY got to meet him!! My dad said he shook his hand, reminded him that they had met back in St Louis and got to talk to him for a short time.....success!"

The private lunch was set for Wednesday the 14th, and the trio FINALLY had a chance to go over the albums and memory books the Stillwagons have amassed. Right place, right time, mission accomplished. :)

The Stillwagons say they've got a fair amount of Fieri-inspired eating to do before then. “We'll be at 325 when we get home,” he pledged.

Ben and Barb, happy travels!

For more photos, click here.

*Update* for more on the story, read Dave Bakke: Face time with Food Network idol fulfills couple's dream

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How many Diners, Drive-ins and Dives have you been to?

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