A few months after Guy Fieri – the rambling TV restaurateur with the bleached, spiked hair – started his “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” show on the Food Network in 2007, Loudoun’s Bill Grella became hooked.
The Leesburg resident thought it would be fun to visit one of the eateries featured on the show. Grella chose Richmond’s funky Village Café in 2008. Then he went to another. And another. And he couldn’t stop, recently attending his 600th locale featured on Fieri’s Triple D show.
“I don’t know anyone else who has visited 600,” which is about two-thirds of the total Fieri has featured, said Grella, 54. A New Jersey resident who had eaten at 390 eateries showed up at Grella’s 600th celebration at the Carving Room Kitchen and Bar in Washington, D.C., he wrote on his blog, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives Adventures. It was their first face-to-face meeting since becoming friends through the show’s Facebook page.
To some, Grella’s journeys sound a little obsessive. But it’s really a fun hobby that allows him to meet some interesting people, including restaurant owners, patrons, and fellow Fieri fans, he said. Most establishments welcome him warmly; the Carving Room greeted him with gold balloons that spelled “600” and a wooden carving board that noted the milestone.
“I’ve always liked diners and dive places,” Grella said. “This quest has made me visit places I’d never have thought to go to on my own.”
His cuisine adventures have taken him to as many as 30 states, from Maine to Hawaii. Hillbilly Hot Dogs near Huntington, W.V., was among the more memorable excursions. “The dining area is two old school buses put together,” Grella said. “It looks like a bad yard sale from the outside. The owner lets you write your names on the wall.”
He’s eaten “unbelievably good” lobster pie at the Maine Diner and melt-in-your-mouth brisket at Pecan Lodge in Dallas, where he had to wait behind some 100 people in line. He’s been to the closest ones to Loudoun County – Metro 29 Diner in Arlington and the former La Caraquena in Falls Church.
While a Loudoun eatery has yet to be highlighted by Fieri, among those that deserve to be is Monk’s BBQ in Purcellville, Grella said. “They make great barbecue, which almost equals that of Pecan Lodge,” he said.
Grella met Fieri – who he called genuine and fun-loving – briefly in 2009 at a public appearance in Norfolk. He got the celebrity restaurateur to sign his book, which he has taken to the establishments he visits. Owners or employees sign the page where their eatery is featured or another appropriate place. He estimated he had collected between 450 and 500 such cuisine autographs.
Fieri, who owns several classic cars that he shows off on his programs, has his own “Guy Fieri effect.” After a restaurant is highlighted on his show, business booms, according to numerous published reports.
Working for an airline at Dulles International Airport loading planes with cargo, baggage and more helps Grella travel to some of the more far-reaching sites. “They call us baggage handlers, but we do more than handle bags,” he said. Recently, he helped load a couple planes full of supplies for hurricane victims.
Grella doesn’t see himself stopping his hobby anytime soon. “There are a lot more places I haven’t been,” he noted.