Guy Fieri serves free lunch to hospital workers, first responders in Sonoma County

The Food Network star fed health care workers and first responders at three Santa Rosa hospitals.|

Folks don’t usually save the paper boxes their takeout food comes in.

But let’s see if souvenirs aren’t made of a good many of the clamshell cartons distributed Wednesday in Santa Rosa, filled with a yummy lunch in a gesture of gratitude to local health care workers and first responders.

TV celebrity chef Guy Fieri didn’t have to take the time to write a personal note of thanks and his initials on the lid of each of about 1,200 carryout boxes handed out at Memorial Hospital.

Nor did Fieri have to amass a catering team and vast quantities of food to feed large numbers of public service workers this week at Memorial and two other hospitals, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center.

But he did it.

Wielding a fat-tipped Sharpie alongside his mobile kitchen behind Memorial, Fieri quickly wrote on each to-go carton “Thank you” or “Great work” or some variation thereof, then his stylized “GF” initials. Observing social distancing, one masked Memorial employee after another accepted an autographed box containing pulled pork, pasta with veggies, Caesar salad and focaccia with caramelized onion and Parmesan.

“They all understand doctor’s writing, so they know that says, ‘Good job,’?” Fieri said, glancing at his latest food box message.

Fieri was an up-and-coming Santa Rosa restaurateur in 2006 when he won a Food Network competition that set him on course to become one of the best-known personalities on Earth. But he has remained rooted in Sonoma County.

On Wednesday, assisted by his family, a team of Sonoma County restaurateurs and volunteers from businesses that contributed dollars to fund the free meals, Fieri responded to diners’ many expressions of thanks with gratitude of his own.

“You guys are awesome,” he told CHP Capt. Aristotle Wolfe as the lawman stepped off with four bags of meals for his crew at the patrol office in Rohnert Park.

The abundantly tattooed Fieri, his trademark spiked blonde hair contrasting with his camouflage face mask, deflected praise from Santa Rosa-born physician Mark Shapiro.

“I don’t know how you guys walk in the door, knowing what you’re faced with,” said the 52-year-old TV star, who co-founded two former restaurants in Santa Rosa, Johnny Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi’s.

“You guys are just warriors,” he told the doctor. “You do this day and night.”

While Fieri’s celebrity status made the gift of meals stand out, everything that so many are doing to honor health care workers and to slow the spread of coronavirus is worthy and appreciated, Shapiro said.

“This kind of gesture,” Shapiro said, “has a bidirectional positive impact.

“It’s all meaningful,” the doctor added, “and it’s all valuable and it’s all important.”

Fieri, who still lives in Sonoma County and has TV production facilities here, has leaned in to help people across the country who have been impacted by the pandemic. He teamed with the education foundation of the National Restaurant Association to raise more than $23 million. The money is being used to make $500 grants to struggling American restaurant workers.

In a Facebook Live broadcast on Friday, Fieri and actor Bill Murray will face off in a nacho-making contest - the Nacho Average Showdown - to raise more money for the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. Terry Crews and Shaquille O’Neal will judge the nacho competition, to appear on the Food Network’s Facebook page.

Fieri said he can’t talk on the phone with Murray without setting down his phone to laugh, so he figures the cook-off has to be funny.

Feeding people during the pandemic has proved to be far more difficult than in other calamities, said Fieri, who set up mobile kitchens during the North Bay fires of 2017 and other disastrous California wildfires.

“Getting meat, that was a tough one,” he said. Fortunately he has a friend in the meat business in Southern California who helped him acquire 1,500 pounds of pork for this week’s Sonoma County hospital meals.

Fieri wanted to pass out T-shirts listing the firms that donated dollars and volunteers to the hospital feeds, and he was surprised to discover the pandemic has complicated shirt-printing.

Add the public health safeguards that must be observed when preparing and distributing meals, Fieri said, and the lunch giveaway at local hospitals this week has been hugely more challenging than what he experienced while feeding people during the wildfires.

“I would say it was five times harder,” he said.

Fieri appreciates the help he’s getting. Wednesday at Memorial Hospital, his sharp and agile kitchen crew included Domenica Catelli of Catelli’s in Geyserville and John Stewart and Duskie Estes of Black Pig Meat Co. and west county’s former Zazu Kitchen & Farm.

Fieri said he received indispensable help arranging the event from Heather Irwin, dining editor for The Press Democrat and Sonoma Magazine and also founder and CEO of Sonoma Family Meal, which pays local restaurants to cook for people in need.

Catelli said during a break from the kitchen that Fieri is able to pull off large, complimentary community meals like the ones happening this week at Santa Rosa’s hospitals because he has a huge heart and vast connections.

“He’s got this dialed in,” Catelli said. “This Guy is the guy for that.”

Also working Wednesday were Fieri’s wife, Lori, and their sons, Hunter and Ryder, and Fieri’s parents, Penny and Jim Ferry, all of Sonoma County.

Penny Ferry, formerly of rural Humboldt County, thinks she knows why her now famous and rich son so often goes to great lengths to be neighborly and to help and acknowledge others.

“Because he was raised in Ferndale,” she said. “That’s how people are there.”

You can contact Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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