The host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives gave PEOPLE an all-access pass to Flavortown during a three-day trip to Kansas City

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May 15, 2019 10:00 AM

Guy Fieri pulls up to his latest restaurant—Guy Fieri’s Dive & Taco Joint—in Kansas City, Mo., not in the 1968 red Camaro convertible that’s become associated with his Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but in a late-model silver Chevy Tahoe. It’s the eatery’s grand opening, and Fieri, 51, wearing dark sunglasses and a camo jacket embroidered with his nickname Guido, happily poses for photos with the screaming fans lining the sidewalk, then gets behind the bar to pour drinks. The next morning, on-set of Triple D, as it’s known to viewers, he reveals that although he played bartender, he barely drank. “I don’t have the liberty of going out at night—two half-shots and I’m done,” he says. “I have to be clearheaded to do this.”

That kind of discipline may be surprising to fans who know him as the gregarious, self-elected Mayor of Flavor­town, but for Fieri it’s necessary: On top of those bleached-blond tips he has to wear many hats—Guy Fieri the TV star; Guy Fieri the restaurateur; Guy Fieri the family man.

Getting to a place where he can do it all has been an evolution. When he began shooting Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in 2007, he owned three restaurants in northern California and had two young sons, Hunter, now 22, and Ryder, now 13. Fieri won the hosting gig after taking home the top prize on season 2 of The Next Food Network Star. Then, his now-iconic spiked hair and loud shirts were not as well-received: “When I got outta the car to do the pilot, the crew was like, ‘Who are you?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m here to host the show.’ Then the audio guy comes walking up and goes, ‘Who’s that?’ And the crew guy goes, ‘That’s what they sent us.’ ”

Guy Fieri at Jarocho Authentic Mexican Seafood in Kansas City shooting Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Dina Litovsky

Everyone quickly warmed up to their new star, but the schedule took some finessing: “At the time it would take five days to make one show.” Now he and two 10-person crews will film at three or four restaurants in a day, leapfrogging between locations. To date, Fieri has put some 1,200 restaurants in 392 cities on the map—and still manages to take Ryder to school most mornings.

“I give it the Tom Brady theory,” he says. “When you come from a great coach, great ownership, and you come from a great team surrounding you and protecting you, it gives you a chance to throw touchdowns.”

For a closer look at Fieri’s life on the road, secrets from the set, plus his favorite “funky joints” featured on Triple D, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up the latest issue, on newsstands Friday.

No matter how many miles he travels, Fieri never loses enthusiasm for what he’s doing—or what he’s eating. While fans have speculated whether he’s genuine about every dish that makes its way onto Triple D, Fieri relates it to having a few favorite songs on an album, and simply enjoying the rest. “There are different scales of good, great and awesome,” says Fieri. “Not every dish is A+. But if I don’t like it, you won’t see it.”

What keeps him motivated are the cooks and restaurant owners standing next to him in every episode. “I started to pick the places based off of this idea of hardworking mom-and-pop families trying to make a go of something,” says Fieri, whose efforts are more than appreciated by the proprietors. “He built our business up 30, 40 percent back then,” says Stretch, owner of four Grinders restaurants in Kansas City, who first appeared on Triple D in 2008. “He also helped change the face of our community. More people get off the highway now and come in. They don’t just stop at franchises.”

Dina Litovsky

After 30 seasons on-air, the show is also invaluable to the Food Network, becoming one of their most successful prime-time series. Those closest to Fieri say his success boils down to his authenticity. “I knew him before, and he ain’t changed much,” says friend Sammy Hagar, who met Fieri in 1999 after he won a contest to meet the musician. “He’s really got his finger on a young pulse. He’s more like a rock star than a chef.”

The entrepreneurial spirit of his TV guests is something Fieri relates to on a personal level. Decades before graduating from the University of Nevada Las Vegas with a degree in hospitality management, 10-year-old Fieri sold pretzels from a bicycle cart near the Ferndale, Calif., home he shared with his parents, Penny and Jim, owners of a clothing store, and his sister Morgan. “My parents never put a boundary in front of me saying, ‘You can’t do that,’ ” he says. “I’ve always lived in the realm of ‘You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.’ ” He has since opened and licensed his name out to more than 70 restaurants and starred in 11 shows on Food Network.

RELATED: Guy Fieri Opens Up a Restaurant at Disney World

“I couldn’t imagine how this could be going on without my wife’s support and understanding, because it’s a lot,” he says. The couple first met in 1992, when Lori stopped by a restaurant Fieri managed. Now, after 24 years of marriage, Lori, 48, says the secret to their long-lasting relationship is that, “at the end of the day, I look at him and I still genuinely like him. Starting from the time we wake up in the morning, he pretty much has me laughing.”

When Fieri isn’t traveling for work, he revels in life at home in Santa Rosa, Calif. Along with his sons, his family includes his late sister Morgan’s son Jules, 19, whom he and Lori have raised since Morgan’s death from meta­static melanoma in 2011. “Our perfect nights are really barbecuing in the backyard and the kids swimming in the pool,” says Lori. “We just hunker down at home. That’s his happy place.” Fieri adds, “I’m so proud of all that these kids get to experience but also at how grounded they’ve stayed. I think that has a lot to do with who I am and who my wife is. We came from very, very close-knit families.”

Guy Fieri on set of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives 
Dina Litovsky

As his career has flourished—success has brought him around 30 cars (he’s lost count) and his own private plane—he’s come to enjoy wearing one more hat: Guy Fieri the philanthropist. Last year, when destructive wildfires swept through his home state, Fieri drove nearly 200 miles to Redding to feed the displaced victims and the first responders.

“There’s nothing in the world that will prepare you for somebody hungry being filled up,” he says. “It’s unfortunately the toughest times in our world where we are seeing the greatest times of our culture.” Hunter joined him on that trip and often shadows his dad on the set of Triple D to prepare for what Fieri hopes will one day be his show. “He’s a great teacher,” says Hunter, a senior at his dad’s alma mater. “When the time comes, I will be ready to roll.”

But that time is not approaching soon. Fieri loves what he does too much: “I’m going to do a lot of these shows. I’ll be in a walker,” he says. “They’ll be getting me out of the senior citizen van, but I’ll still be doing it.”

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