As the host of Food Network’s “Dinners Drive-ins and Dives,” Guy Fieri has probably met more restaurant workers than anyone else in the U.S. But when the pandemic hit, the two industries he works in – TV production and restaurants – were shut down.
“I kind of feel like ‘Happy Gilmore,'” Fieri told CBS News. “He’s a hockey player that plays golf. I’m a cook that also does TV.”
Fieri was able to film some of his Food Network shows from his home in Northern California. But like many people, he had a tough year.
“We were separated from my parents for Christmas. Lost some really wonderful friends during this. So, there’s been enough to really bum me out, bum us out and get us all down,” he said. “But on the other side of it, there’s so many people that have it so much worse.”
The host and restauranteur wanted to use his platform to help people in the industry he’s spent his life working in. “You know, so many people work in the restaurant industry in multiple jobs, second jobs, single moms, single parents, students, retirees. And the restaurant industry is massively important to our communities,” Fieri said.
“And so, when I saw this coming, I said, ‘We got to do something to get some money to these folks,'” he continued.
Fieri joined the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. With partners like Fieri, and more than 50 companies, the fund collected 15,000 individual donations and raised close to $25 million.
The fund gave $500 grants to 43,000 restaurant workers in all 50 states. Nearly 60 percent of the recipients were women and 50 percent were people of color. “The reason was, there’s a lot of folks that, for various reasons, don’t have the resources, have the time, have the ability to get that money,” he said.
“There was a story that was said to me about someone saying, ‘I live in a building with a bunch of people who work in the service industry, and none of us have any money – I don’t even have anyone I can borrow money from because nobody I know has any money.’ When you start hearing those kinds of things…there’s nothing more important.”
Now, the two industries Fieri works in are coming back to life. He’s been able to get back on the road to film some episodes of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” or “Triple D” – and meeting restaurant workers.
“As I was leaving the ‘Triple D’ location, getting in the car to go to the next ‘Triple D’ location, this young manager came out from the restaurant,” he said. “She came to me and said, ‘You know, I got the money.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so awesome.’ She said, ‘The money was great, but it was just awesome to know that people I don’t even know care about how I’m doing.’ And I was like, ‘Man, that’s the whole reason we did this.'”