Guy Fieri, cable television’s so-called Mayor of Flavortown, recently signed a fresh contract with the Food Network for his popular Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Guy’s Grocery Games. It will pay the celebrity chef $80 million over three years, a $50 million raise from his prior agreement.
The eight-figure deal makes the 53-year-old the top-paid chef on cable TV. His longest-running show Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, which has been on air since 2006, generated more than $230 million in 2020 ad revenue for the Food Network, according to data analytics firm Kantar.
“I got a chance of a lifetime,” Fieri recently told The Hollywood Reporter, stressing that his allegiance lies with specific Food Network executives and not its parent company, Discovery Networks. “I think I played it good.”
The size of the contract, which was signed last month, is surprising considering Discovery has a reputation for paying modest fees to even its most popular hosts. At roughly $26 million a year, Fieri, who declined to comment on his earnings, is now collecting a salary in line with what the top food personalities are making from streamers like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s biggest Food Network deal paid him around $8 million a year in the early 2000s, but that was unusual. These days the earnings for top talent on the network’s HGTV and flagship Discovery Channel is still usually capped at seven-figures.
Gordon Ramsay, meanwhile, earned around $20 million in a year from his Fox shows like Masterchef, according to Forbes 2020 estimates, which account for more than 75 hours of programming and more than $150 million yearly in ad sales for Fox. Last year Ramsay earned $70 million overall, but more than two-thirds comes from his 35 restaurants worldwide and other deals, not his TV appearances. In 2020 it made him the 19th top-earning celebrity in America. Fieri has never appeared on the Forbes top celebrities earners list.
The tattooed and goateed Fieri, who was among the first to resume shooting during the pandemic, is now the Discovery network’s top-paid star, ahead of The Pioneer Woman’s Ree Drummond. He also makes more than what Chip and Joanna Gaines earned while HGTV’s top stars. (Discovery announced Monday that it will form a new publicly traded company by merging with AT&T’s WarnerMedia, home of the HBOMax streaming service.)
The signing marks another milestone for Fieri, whose first food business was selling pretzels out of a stand at 10 years old. He later studied cooking in Chantilly, France and attended the University of Nevada Las Vegas to learn about hospitality management. His first restaurants focused on Tex-Mex food in Santa Rosa, California. Fieri got to the Food Network in 2006 after winning the chance to make his own show while competing on the second season of Next Food Network Star. His six-episode series Guy’s Big Bite started off slow. Fieri made less than $1,000 an episode.
By 2010, Fieri was a rising network star, known for his spiky highlighted hair, backwards sunglasses and clothing featuring flames. As a cultural icon, Fieri was frequently mocked by the late celebrity food and travel star Anthony Bourdain when he was airing on Discovery’s Travel Channel, after a stint on the Food Network. Fieri was also the subject of a scathing and viral 2012 New York Times review of his Times Square location of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, which closed at the end of 2017. Two years later Fieri became one of just four chefs to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was granted the honor at the same time as the late Julia Child.
Fieri has fronted 14 series on Food Network, still owns his original restaurants in Santa Rosa, California, and has his name attached to 80 kitchens worldwide. Last year he joined the trend of celebrity-branded ghost kitchens when he started his delivery-only business called Flavortown Kitchen; it now has 175 locations nationwide through low-volume kitchens owned by Planet Hollywood CEO Robert Earl. Flavortown Kitchen is run by Virtual Dining Concepts, a startup founded by Earl, which also sells Mariah Carey’s cookies, Mario Lopez’s tortas and DJ Pauly D’s salami-heavy subs. Other celebrity lines include weed-loving rapper Wiz Khalifa’s munchies-friendly snacks sold through Ordermark, a Softbank-funded competitor to Virtual Dining.
Flavortown Kitchen is among Earl’s strongest delivery-only brands, despite the fact that Fieri uses his celebrity megaphone to mostly promote new episodes of the shows or Santo Tequila, a brand he owns with former Van Halen lead singer Sammy Hagar. Earl, who once courted celebrities Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone to invest in Planet Hollywood, says Fieri is a strong partner and that after just two months in business, the average Flavortown Kitchen order is $35.
The ghost kitchen is Fieri’s third deal with Earl, who in 2017 hired Fieri to revamp the menu at a renovated Planet Hollywood location. In 2018 the pair started a new chain called Chicken Guy, which now has about a dozen franchises around the country selling chicken tenders, fried chicken sandwiches and fries, and recently they inked a deal for 15 more units in California. Earl predicts that Chicken Guy will soon be a nationwide brand, and he and Fieri are celebrating the brand this weekend at South Beach Food and Wine Festival parties. Fieri has reportedly been feeling magnanimous there, even leaving a $5,000 tip at a Miami Beach restaurant earlier this week.
“He does so much on TV that we all feel we know him. He represents wholesome and great value but he can turn his hand to any cuisine,” says Earl. “Whether it’s Carnival cruises or a casino in Las Vegas or a Chicken Guy, everybody wants to be with him. He’s the real thing. What you see on TV is exactly who he is.”