Guy Fieri sells his stake in Santa Rosa-based Johnny Garlic’s, Tex Wasabi’s

Food Network chef Guy Fieri has turned over operations of his Santa Rosa-based Johnny Garlic's chain and the sushi-BBQ fusion restaurant Tex Wasabi's to his former business partner.|

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri has pulled out of the restaurants he opened in Santa Rosa over the past two decades, striking an agreement with his longtime business partner to sell all his shares to him, the partner’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Fieri, the star of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” divested himself of Johnny Garlic’s Inc., the seven-restaurant chain he founded in 1996 with partner Steve Gruber. He also agreed to sell his interest in the sushi-barbecue fusion restaurant, Tex Wasabi’s, which he opened with Gruber in Santa Rosa in 1999.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Fieri didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Gruber released a statement calling the change “an opportunity for the brand to evolve and grow.”

Future plans include a focus on craft beer, handcrafted cocktails and small plates at Johnny Garlic’s with a new menu debuting later this year, he said.

“We’re taking time to really listen to our guests, rework some of our operations and plan for some big announcements early this summer to kick off our 20th anniversary,” Gruber said in the statement.

Now, the chain boasts Fieri-themed dishes such as Guy-Talian Spicy Sausage and Penne. Tex Wasabi features Rockin’ Lava Shrimp and the Jackass Roll.

Tex Wasabi patrons Wednesday showed little reaction to the news that Fieri would no longer be associated with the restaurant.

“I don’t think anyone is really coming here for a culinary experience,” said Santa Rosa attorney Sean Francis McCloskey as he sipped a margarita and ate fish tacos. “Maybe at one time.”

Morgan Bannister of Sebastopol, who stopped by for a cocktail with a friend, said she was happy Fieri was leaving. She said she doesn’t like his personality and his food is overpriced.

“It’s like you took Donald Trump and made him a chef,” Bannister said.

Others, like Kelly O’Malley of Windsor, who was eating sushi and French fries with her family, said they were big fans.

But O’Malley offered, “everybody needs change.”

She predicted Santa Rosa has not seen the last of the spike-haired chef.

“His roots are here,” said O’Malley, a grocery store clerk. “He’ll be back.”

Fieri, who has become a Food Network phenom and continues to own other restaurants in New York City and Las Vegas, announced his intent to split from Johnny Garlic’s late last year with the filing of legal papers to dissolve the chain.

Gruber blocked the proceedings, suing in Sonoma County Superior Court to keep it together and establish fair market value of Fieri’s 50-percent share.

The partners reached an agreement which they signed Wednesday. Gruber will buy out Fieri and take control of Johnny Garlic’s in Santa Rosa and in Windsor as well as locations in Dublin, Roseville, San Jose, Brentwood and Bakersfield.

Gruber will also take the helm at the Santa Rosa Tex Wasabi’s.

A Tex Wasabi’s in Sacramento closed in 2013, leaving Santa Rosa as the sole location. It has seen its share of ups and downs, with a 19-month closure in 2009 and another recent closure for repairs in December 2015.

Fieri’s outlandish dishes and in-your-face style helped propel him to superstardom on Food Network’s “Next Food Network Star” competition in 2006.

Staff Writer Heather Irwin contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

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