Chris Smith: Why Guy Fieri keeps coming back to the Russian River Pub on ’Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’

Friday night’s episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” will be the third visit to the Russian River Pub near Forestville.|

When Guy Fieri met Wendy Gause 20-some years back, he was a not-yet-famous Santa Rosa restaurateur and she a waitress who delighted patrons of some of the city’s favorite dining spots.

Gause was serving at Hank’s Creekside Restaurant when Fieri came in and ordered something mildly unforgettable. Ham and grits, with coffee poured over it.

“It was like an oddball request,” said Gause, who’d been a server also at the hallowed eating-and-drinking landmark that was El Rancho Tropicana Hotel and at Lita’s Cafe. She and Fieri chewed the fat whenever he came into Hank’s, and they became friends.

In 2005, Gause purchased then run-down Russian River Pub, located between the river and River Road a bit west of Forestville. In 2006, Fieri, then co-owner of Johnny Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi’s, won the nationwide TV contest “The Next Food Network Star.”

Fieri had lived for a time in Sebastopol, and he was familiar with the Russian River Pub. He was eager to see what Gause would make of it.

“She’s done such a great job,” Fieri said Wednesday. “It’s a hidden gem of Sonoma County.“

In 2007, as Fieri and Food Network producers played with the concept that evolved into “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” he needed to identify some American eateries to visit for a pilot episode. He knew he wanted a Sonoma County restaurant in the mix.

He gave Gause a call. It didn’t take a lot of talking to persuade her to have him and a Food Network crew into the Russian River Pub.

That first episode featuring it and a collection of other diners around the country appeared on TV. Fieri said it was clear to him that Gause and her rural, riverside restaurant-bar and her welcoming nature and her menu resonated with viewers.

“It’s a wings joint, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But they have a real eclectic menu,”

Beyond the menu, Gause created comforts that include a large patio and picnic lawn. You can see more about the Russian River Pub at its website:

Not long after the broadcast of the launching episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” the Great Recession of late ’07 and ’08 struck. Business at restaurants everywhere dried up. “Closed” signs appeared.

But a decent stream of diners flowed into Gause’s pub. They told her they were from Canada, Florida, from all over, and they’d seen her place on Fieri’s Triple-D and wanted to check it out.

Gause said, “I honestly feel that that show is the only reason I made it through that first recession.”

You’ve probably read or seen accounts of mom-and-pop restaurants across the nation that only the locals knew about until they were discovered by Fieri, then lines snaked out the door.

With nearly 500 episodes under his belt, Fieri has revisited some of his favorite spots to see if and how they’ve changed since he and his crew dropped by the first time.

Most recently, as the pandemic has hammered the restaurant trade, he’s returned to a number of eateries to check out what they’re doing to survive the restraints on on-site dining. And to encourage people to help sustain restaurants by ordering for pickup or delivery.

Like a regular, Fieri has repeatedly made his way back to Gause and to her place. Friday’s 9 p.m. episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” will be the third to feature the Russian River Pub.

“I feel very blessed and fortunate,” Gause said Wednesday. She’s pleased that the people she works with and she serves are like family, and that Fieri isn’t far from it.


HOLE IN HER HEART: Doughnuts weren’t an every-Sunday thing for Glen Hurley and Leslie Bruner-Hurley.

A walk in a park was. The Santa Rosa couple would pile the dogs into the car for a stroll of Spring Lake or maybe Windsor’s Foothill park.

Afterward, sometimes, they’d indulge a mutual craving.

“Weirdly, both of us have always loved doughnuts,” says Leslie, who works at E.R. Sawyer Jewelers. She and Glen savored the upper-crust creations at City Garden Doughnuts & Coffee in Santa Rosa.

Glen, who for decades sold homes and played baseball in Sonoma County, was 67 when he collapsed without warning and died at home on Nov. 17.

Sunday looked to be a tough day for Leslie. Her adult daughter and Glen’s two, all of whom live at least hundreds of miles away, spoke about what they might do to brighten her first Valentine’s Day as a widow.

Leslie couldn’t have been much more surprised or more deeply touched when she answered a knock at the door on Sunday morning. There stood a young woman from City Garden, which doesn’t normally make deliveries.

Inside the three bakery boxes the visitor presented Leslie were specially made doughnuts shaped as letters that spelled LOVE, followed by a heart-shaped exclamation point.

The moment might have been sweeter only had Glen been there for a bite.


NICE NEEDLING: Eager to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Deana Abramowitz drove days ago to the Luther Burbank Center to see if she might get lucky.

Maybe 50 people were there when the Sutter crew finished up with everyone who’d had an appointment. There were doses left over, so the folks who waited were invited to step forward — in order, starting with those whose birthdays were the longest ago.

Abramowitz watched as a grayed gent pushing a woman in a wheelchair approached the vaccination area. He announced their birth year: 1935.

“The crowd cheered for them!’” Abramowitz reported.

Then, those who were waiting hooted also when the next birth date was called out, and the next, and the next. This went on until the day’s last dose was administered to a person born in 1944.

“It was so nice to feel like we were all in it together,” Abramowitz shared. She was born after ’44, so she left without being vaccinated but feeling better even so.

She wasn’t home long when the phone rang and someone with Providence St. Joseph Health asked if she’d like to schedule a vaccination. It was good when she got a shot the next day at the county fairgrounds, even though nobody cheered.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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