(Don't miss the Picture Gallery after our story!)
Our story starts off with the best line ever. I was working in the kitchen October 17th, 2013 doing dishes during our lunch rush and one of my servers comes back and says “hey Joe, there’s someone on the phone from Diners, Drive-Ins or something like that...Food Network or something...do you want to take the call?” Well I dropped everything and grabbed the phone! The first thing that came to mind was that this was a cruel, crank call; the type of call that you would quickly hang up on. What kept me on the line was the fact that I already knew that Guy Fieri was coming to his hometown, Ferndale, CA soon to shoot his show. Taking the call could be worth a few minutes I thought....little did I know what was about to happen.
Bianca was her name and she started off by asking me if I’ve ever heard of the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives? I said that we were very familiar with the show and watch it regularly. She informed me that Guy was coming to Humboldt for the hometown shoot, but they were also going to feature other Humboldt County restaurants and asked if we would be interested in possibly being featured. After a tremendously long thought process of a millisecond or so I said “ABSOLUTELY!” Before she could go any further with the process we had to understand and agree to the following to be considered: we would have to go through a rather long and tedious interview process and be available to take multiple phone calls during this time...we had to provide, during the first phone interview, a complete ingredient and process list of 10 of our most popular menu items from prep to plate AND if selected, we would have to be willing to shut the restaurant down completely for at least two days while filming! We'd also be required to provide a copy of our latest health inspection report as the show has a reputation for visiting clean establishments. We really liked this because we didn't want to be associated with a show who would feature sub-par places. She asked if I was willing to do all of this? Another long process ensued, NOT, and I said “ABSOLUTELY!...I just need to consult with my business partner, who is also my wife.” She then informed me that they were contacting a number of other restaurants in the area and that it was imperative for us to confirm our interest quickly as we would have a better chance of being considered if we committed to the interview process sooner rather than later. I told her I’d be responding within a couple of hours. She said she would be sending us an email with her contact information and a synopsis of the 30 minute phone call we were just wrapping up.
So, I sent the following text message over to Lorrena as she was working at Café Nooner Too! “There is an inbound email from Food Network. Please do not share contents with anyone. I’ll be over to talk to you about it shortly.” Lorrena responded “Sounds fascinating.” The email was actually from the research department for Citizen Pictures in Chicago, who produces the show. I met with Lorrena and we read the email, looked at each other and said “Let’s go for it!” I immediately called Bianca back, but got a voice mail. We sent her a confirmation email and then tried calling again. It was after 6PM in Chicago and I was afraid she had gone home, but she answered! I told her it was a "GO" and we were very excited to be considered. She then set up an hour long phone interview for 7am PST the following Monday where we would need to go over, in detail, the 10 dishes and answer other questions. We were also informed not to discuss the matter with anyone and that we’d be required to sign a confidentiality agreement.
After a very long weekend, Lorrena and I along with our Kitchen Manager, Chris arrived at Café Nooner about 6:45am Monday, made some coffee and awaited the phone call. 7am came and went...no phone call. Finally, about 15 minutes later I received a text message apologizing for the delay and that we’d be called soon. After about another 20 minutes my phone rang. I answered and put it on speaker so we could all hear. Bianca asked a few questions; mainly who the “main character” was going to be for the episode should we be selected. That would be Lorrena so she began the extremely detailed “prep to plate” descriptions while Chris and I assisted. The call went well and we all felt pretty good about it. We were told to expect a follow up call around 3pm our time to answer more questions. She wrapped up the call up by telling us that the selection process would take 1 to 2 weeks and to be patient. I received the next call which lasted about 15 minutes and was able to answer all her follow up questions. Again, she explained the selection process and asked for our patience. If we were selected we would probably have about 4 weeks of lead time to prepare for Guy. Ok then, now the wait and dreaming about the “what if this really goes down” began.
So we tried to get back to the normal, day-to-day operation of running two restaurants while we waited. Week one passed with no further contact. Then I received a call and found out they were still deciding and that they had more questions for Lorrena; so another interview was set up for later that day. Lorrena interviewed for another few minutes and then we were asked, once again to be patient. The Producer’s decision would be forthcoming shortly. The wait was excruciating for us, but with each and every previous contact, we had been told it was “looking very positive so far”, which in a sense, made the wait even more difficult. Week number 2 passed by and still no answer. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore and sent a short email to Bianca asking if there was any news? About 30 minutes later I get the call. She said I’ve got some good news and some bad news. My heart kind of sunk, but then she said “Congratulations! You made it!” She continued with the bad news..." the production schedule had been moved up and extended which means the filming could start at Café Nooner as early as the following Wednesday!"...just a scant 6 days later. We had decided not to do any of the site prep work until we found out for sure, so what we had been planning on having a month to complete was now being required in just 6 days! I then headed over to Nooner Too! where Lorrena was on the line cooking. I entered through the back door with a very straight face, walked up to her and said “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.” ( I know, I know, how could I not just blurt this out?) "Well the good news is...YOU’RE GOING TO BE A TV STAR!!!” “The bad news is they could be filming as early as next Wednesday!” She smiled and began shaking a little and then we embraced. This was going to be one helluva ride! We were also informed that we would be receiving multiple phone calls from multiple field producers and logistical assistants beginning that afternoon. As advertised, the first phone call was from Field Producer Mike Morris in New York City! They had never tried to put so many shoots together in such a short time and they would be scrambling, needing complete cooperation. Two separate production teams would be flying in early the following week. We informed our Kitchen Manager and met to create THE PUNCH LIST! We then broke the news to our employees along with the request that we (and they) had to keep the shoot strictly confidential. In addition, we had signed a legally binding agreement and needed strict silence. We could not disclose any details of the shoot, its schedule or even that we were chosen. That was a hard cat to keep in the bag, but we did a pretty good job of it. We were told we could tell our employees, family members and close friends, but no one else.
We obviously could not complete everything we needed to accomplish without outside help. We recruited a number of our friends and of course many of our employees to help meet an almost impossible deadline. I must thank publicly these people and the following local businesses: K&M Glass, Bay Tank, Cooke Electric, Restiff Cleaning and Town and Country Refrigeration, who all received panicked phone calls from me regarding their respective expertise and what we needed to happen within days. Obviously, we had to tell them what was happening, but under strict confidence. They all rose to the occasion and for that we are eternally grateful!
6 grueling days passed by, many of them exceeding 16 plus hours. Everything had to be done after-hours as the Café was running as usual. Many of us worked past midnight and until 3 am one very early morning. We cleaned, we painted inside and out, we replaced fixtures, we removed unnecessary equipment and so much more. It wasn’t that anything was in bad shape, it just had to be as perfect as possible for the state-of-the-art High Definition cameras they’d be shooting with. We were told these cameras see absolutely everything. They also told us to get plenty of sleep the night before as it would be a long day of filming. Too many other owners appearing on the show, they said, would either work too long the day before shoots or party all night before, leading to a poor performance during the actual shoot. They didn’t want that to happen to us. We were home by about 9pm, but didn’t sleep that well.
We actually had a single day to breathe before our shoot on Friday November 22, 2013. The day before, I had received a phone call from our field producer, Mike Morris, stating his group was in town and they were currently shooting over at Paul’s Live From New York Pizza. He needed me to push back our previously invited day 1 “café patrons”, who would be involved in the filming, by about an hour. So I started making the 15 phone calls and sending emails and texts. Everyone responded, They all cooperated and were happy to do so. You just have to LOVE our Cafe Nooner Fans!
Interestingly enough, many people think the show is filmed while the restaurants are open to the general public. This is not the case as it has to be a controlled environment. There are about 6 production people, cameras, huge lights and wires all over the ground etc. It is not a conducive business environment for the places to be open. That being said, we were asked to select 15 people to be our “customers” for the first day and 10 more for the second. These invitees could be close friends, actual regular customers and some family members. The only caveat was that whoever we chose must be an actual patron who would know the menu and would be willing to articulate their knowledge about it on a national cable television show. Day 1 was the “crew day” where all the close-up ingredient shots in the kitchen are done, a full on service is shown, some customer interviews are performed and other kitchen action filmed. Day 2 was "Guy Day" where he was there working in the kitchen with the Chef, speaking to the guests and filming the introduction with the Red Camaro.
During the “crew” day, it was most certainly a hard work day as the Field Producer said it would be. It all looks seamless and easy on the show itself, but so many technical issues are dealt with during filming, like multiple takes, different angles, turning equipment on and off to curtail extra noise while shooting etc. These guys are professionals and this is a major television production. They said they were turning our place into a “working television set” and they weren’t kidding. We all had fun, but it was really hard, hard work. By the end of the day we were exhausted! After the day’s production was complete, Mike Morris congratulated Lorrena and I for a job well done. He was very pleased with the day and informed us that it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes there are complete failures and the show won’t air that particular location. He then said he had one more little project for the two of us and asked us to follow him along with a cameraman. As we walked outside the cafe, I figured we were just going to do a shot right in front, but Mike kept walking towards Los Bagels. He said "We want to do a hero shot with you two." This is a shot that is done to show the owners with a background that gives a visual taste for the location being filmed. We all gathered on the corner where Los Bagels is at (2nd and E Street) and Mike told Lorrena to step out into the street while the cameraman knelt down so that he was filming up at Lorrena with Old Town in the background. She asked if they would warn her of any cars coming and Mike dead panned “NO!” We all just laughed and I promised I would save her! They had her smile, make a large sweeping arm gesture as to welcome everyone to Old Town, Eureka all while looking into the camera. Not an easy thing to do for a normal person appearing on national television for the first time. They then sent me out with her and told us to smile, act naturally (yeah right!) and do something fun like kiss or do a high five or something. We did several takes of high fives and on the second take we completely missed each other’s hand. All we could do was start cracking up laughing. I wish we could have a copy of the entire roll of outtakes, but they don’t release those. Mike said "great job" and that they’d be back for “Guy Day” the following Tuesday. We went back to the café to clean up and prepare to re-open for business the next day. We were tired, but giddy for sure. Now we had to operate the café for 3 days and have it “camera ready” once again by the end of Monday. We closed about an hour and a half early on Monday and were invaded by another friendly crew to help us do this all over again. We were all done about 9pm and headed home to try and get some rest.
We awoke at 5am and arrived at the café about 6:30am to prepare the kitchen for Guy and crew on November 26, 2013, just two days before Thanksgiving. The crew showed up first and set up while Mike worked with Lorrena on the technical sequence of the ingredient list for each dish we did the during the prior shoot. You see, it all has to be done exactly the same way and exactly in the same order with Guy in the kitchen as it was done when the close-up shots were filmed during "Crew day." Lorrena and Mike studied and consulted over how the shoot would go down with Guy there. An hour or so went by while the crew was on the phone with another producer, who had just flown in from Denver and who was also with Guy. It was amazing to witness the technical aspects of a production like this and just how much is required to pull something like this off. The crew was also on the phone with the person bringing Guy’s Camaro to the café. The famous, red Chevy Camaro pulled up first and then the vehicle with Guy and the other producer arrived. Mike came over to us and explained a rather strange procedure. He said they would be keeping Guy and Lorrena separated until they were ready to shoot the kitchen scenes together. It wasn’t because Guy doesn’t want to talk to you or anything like that, but there is a good reason for it. Mike further explained that they used to let Guy talk with the owners and staff before the shoots, but then when they got on camera all the original “small talk" was gone resulting in very uncomfortable exchanges between Guy and the featured Chef on camera. That does not make for good television and it made sense to us. So Guy strolled in, sat down and was surrounded by his crew. I watched this from a distance and it was really fun to see their internal dynamic. Everyone was joking around, Guy was very animated and they were just talking about the morning thus far....oh and about Guy doing 60 plus mph in a dune buggy on Centerville Beach!
Mike then came to me and said “Joe I need you to contact your 10 invitees and push them back about 45 minutes as we want to spend more time here and get some more plate shots.” Okie dokie! So with only about 2 hours’ worth of notice, calls were made and everyone happily complied. Once I got done with that they were beginning to set the scenes up with Guy and Lorrena.
For those of you who don’t know how small our kitchen is...well it’s tiny....Whoville tiny! During a normal day we could have 4 people total working there with servers occasionally coming in and out of the area. During Guy’s time in our kitchen, there was Guy, Lorrena, Chris, 2 cameramen, a sound guy, the field producer, a prep table in the middle, two large mega bright lighting apparatus, me, my son and two of my staff in the same space. Let’s see, that’s 11 people plus all the additional equipment...SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! They first filmed the Lamb Kebob Plate preparation. Guy was great...I don’t know how many times he stopped and made some joke about a crewmember, himself or something Lorrena did or said. He had us all laughing so hard my stomach hurt! To Lorrena's credit, she threw a real zinger out there (back from her medical days) that stopped Guy in his tracks.....unfortunately, that will remain a part of the unseen outtake roll and will have to live on only in our memories! Guy really took the time to make Lorrena feel at ease and coached her along to a successful and fun episode. They finished this portion and took a short break to prepare for the Pulled Pork segment. At this point, Mike came to me once again and said “Joe, I think you have guests arriving. Please go out and be with them (keeping them outside) until the kitchen shots are complete.” At this point the crew had a little surprise for Guy before the shoot continued. Although the crew and Citizen Pictures knew well in advance, they decided to spring a special guest on him. Guy’s sophomore year High School English teacher, Mr. Pulitano had just arrived along with with his wife and mother, all of whom are regular customers of Cafe Nooner! We were able to put this together because Mr. Pulitano just happens to be our Kitchen Manager’s Dad! Guy looked out the window, saw his former teacher, said “NO WAY!” and headed outside to greet him! That was really heartwarming and fun to see. Guy invited the family in while they filmed the Pulled Pork segment and spent additional time catching up with his former teacher.
I went outside and hung out with our guests and the Camaro. By this time we were starting to draw a crowd and one of my other jobs was to prevent passersby from peering into the window as they could be seen by the camera in the background. We also had many customers attempt to enter to eat lunch, unaware of our closure. Many pictures of the Camaro were taken with various people standing in front of it. It was so amazing to see this famous car in front of our little café! Guy and crew then came outside to shoot the segment introduction with the Camaro. They did three takes with the third being used on the show. It was a magical moment for me and our friends to see that. It was incredible to hear Guy Fieri point to and say “This is Café Nooner!” and walk in! Guy then headed back inside with his loyal crew in tow and Mike told me we’d be doing the guest shots with Guy soon. A few more minutes passed by then one of the cameramen came out and told me to send in the first two people. Guy sat down and interviewed them. A few minutes later, we brought in a couple more and so on until we had all 12 guests seated and being served on camera. Guy did multiple interviews and then came the awesome and witty exchange with his High School English teacher, Mr. Pulitano. Wow, that was so much fun and it would, in the end, help lead to our segment getting the coveted outro spot on the aired episode! That wrapped up the day's production and Guy autographed some hats, a large poster and signed our wall. He then headed off to shoot more at Paul’s Live From New York while the crew started packing up. One of them asked me if we wanted a stencil painted on the wall where Guy had signed. I said sure not knowing how big it was. The spot where I had earlier asked Guy to sign didn’t have very much room and they thought they might not be able to do this in time. Now, I had to think quick or lose an important opportunity. The stencil had to lay flat at an angle but couldn’t because of the kitchen window trim. So I thought...they are done shooting so let’s rip the trim off the wall....I can replace that later. I then went and grabbed some tools and Guy’s crew dismantled part of the frame and got the stencil job done!
Mike told us he didn’t know when the show would air, but that we would be contacted a month in advance by Food Network. He also said we could tell everyone about shoot now since Guy had left. So finally I could make the announcement to Café Nooner’s Facebook page. Within hours, we had several thousand views. I couldn’t believe the number of views, shares, likes and comments the post had received. I believe the FB Stat was an 8000% increase over our normal reach! The next morning the count exceeded 10,000 views. We were absolutely floored and a little afraid now. In the end, 12,232 people saw this post. So that was it...now we had to wait. Over the next two months we got back to normal doing what we do.
So while Guy was in Humboldt County he shot the following places: The Ivanhoe, Ferndale Meats & Humboldt Sweets all in his hometown of Ferndale along with donating a Pretzel Cart to Ferndale Elementary for fundraising, Loleta Cheese Factory in Loleta and Clendenan’s Apple Cider in Fortuna. These locations made up “Guys Hometown Tour” hour-long episode which aired on February 7, 2014. At this point I was on the Food Network website everyday looking for anything that could indicate when our episode would air. One by one the new episode information would pop up. Finally, the first of the Eureka locations, Paul’s Live From New York Pizza showed up. It aired on February 14th. Next up was Brick and Fire Bistro on February 21st followed by Bless My Soul Café on February 28th. Then finally, what we had been waiting for months to see appeared! Our episode was titled “Dynamite Duos” and was scheduled to air on March 7th, 2014. Lorrena’s recipe for her Roasted Red Pepper Hummus also hit the Food Network website around the first of March. It was getting real now! To celebrate, we put together an employee/cast party to be held at our Henderson Center location so we could all watch the show together. We had HD cable installed and brought in our big screen TV for the big night. Approximately 50 people joined us for a fantastic evening of food, fellowship and a terrific showing for Café Nooner on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives!
This has been a humbling experience for us all. We’re just a small, family owned café trying to provide for our employees and our family. Nowhere in our wildest dreams did we ever expect for something like this to happen. The number one question I get asked about the show is “how did you get this gig?” My only answer is “they called us!” We are so thankful for Guy Fieri, Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, Citizen Pictures and of course The Food Network. All the people we worked with from research, production and logistics to legal were all very kind and very professional. The field producer, Mike Morris, and his crew were amazing to work with and so incredibly professional and kind. We of course could not have done any of this without the tremendous support and loyalty of our employees in both locations. Believe me it took a village to do this concurrently with running our business! Our hats are off to them because they ROCK! We also thank our friends who came to help us put in long hours preparing the café for those HD cameras! You guys ROCK! Many thanks to our friends & family, who made up our cast over two days of filming. You all provided the episode with outstanding character and some memorable zingers like “I could literally bathe in the BBQ Sauce it's so good!”, the infamous “Pulled Pork, Pulled Pork” musical, “a mustache this big requires many napkins” and of course a newly coined term for the American Lexicon “Therapisting!”
Finally, we want to extend a special thank you to Guy Fieri himself. Guy, you’ve hit the big time and the entire county is proud of you. You are in the business of helping small business succeed and what you have done for this community is incredible. We are floored and humbled that you chose us, Café Nooner, and all the other locations locally to feature on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Not only that, but your show featured Humboldt County restaurants for 5 weeks in a row . You’ve done more for the tourism industry here than you know. Our hats are off to you, Sir!