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Good riddance to Guy Fieri’s Times Square tourist trap

Guy’s American Kitchen, TV superchef Guy ­Fieri’s hangar-size showplace — or burial ground — for American regional and road cooking, officially shut down on New Year’s Eve after less than 5¹/₂ years. The 500-seat jumbo’s epic flop is a story of Times Square hubris — the belief that tourists who cheerfully support hustling Elmos and lousy chain eateries like Bubba Gump Shrimp will empty their wallets for anything.

It turned out that even in Times Square, there was a limit to what gullible tourists will put up with. Remember “Discovery New York,” a rip-off display in the same building as Guy’s that died two years ago?

Guy’s was the most ridiculed eatery in New York City history. And with good reason. It made a laughingstock of Fieri, a “celebrity” chef with a net worth estimated by business publications as between $8.5 million and $12 million — peanuts compared with David Chang’s estimated $50 million, but more than 98.5 percent of all 320 million Americans.

The spiky-haired, loudmouth, one-man culinary machine runs restaurants in California and Las Vegas. He reigns as the “face” of the Food Network on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and other shows. He has a restaurant deal with Carnival Cruise Lines, and cranks out books as prolifically as the sausages that Walmart sells under his name.

Guy’s American Kitchen’s owners cockily thought that Fieri’s mass-market fame would fill the sprawling venue at 220 W. 44th St., the former New York Times building. So what if food writers ridiculed his back-roads, “greasy spoon” obsession? Customers mobbed other mediocre-and-worse nearby places that didn’t have the star power of a TV chef.

But even visiting farmers from Nebraska saw that Guy’s American Kitchen was fake. Fieri lent his name, marketing magic and baroque, “donkey sauce”-soaked recipes to Blue Stein Group, an outfit known for its Heartland Brewery chain, which sells basics like fish and chips and spaghetti and meatballs in addition to craft beers. (Fieri revealed last year that his “signature” donkey sauce is common aioli.)

The reported, healthy-sounding $16 million a year in revenue that Guy’s American Kitchen took in wasn’t enough. A real-estate source told The Post, “Fieri and Blue Stein were partners, but Blue Stein made the final call to pull the plug. They’re used to making great margins on beer at Heartland and they obviously didn’t do the same here.”

“We’re launching a rocket,” Fieri told The Post days before Guy’s American Kitchen opened its doors in early September 2012. But the rocket blew up on the launchpad. My Oct. 3 review likened creamy parmesan sauce to “engine lubricant;” chocolate cake “malt balls” were so impenetrably hard that it took a hammer at home to dent them.

A few weeks later, “CBS This Morning” host Norah O’Donnell asked Fieri what he thought of my saying that I wouldn’t serve the restaurant’s food to a cat. “Well, then, they must not like their cat very much,” Fieri replied.

Pete Wells’ Nov. 13 New York Times review famously upped the ante with dozens of hilarious, facetious questions, e.g., why did a watermelon margarita “taste like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?”

The stink-bomb, zero-star review ran the same day the Times’ advertising department, nostalgic for their old digs, threw a dinner at Guy’s for 200 clients — “planned months ago,” the paper explained. Hello, awkward moments! Fieri dismissed the critics by saying they had “another agenda.” The horrible reviews probably helped draw customers to see if it could really be so bad.

Guy’s American Kitchen quickly became the butt of jokes coast-to-coast. A parody Web site popped up in February 2013 full of made-up, but Fieri-sounding, dishes, such as Guy’s Big Balls — “two four-ounce Rice-a-Roni-crusted mozzarella balls blasted with Cadillac cream sauce.”

Fieri was still a god beyond the Big Apple. At the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in February 2013, he waltzed into a party co-hosted by world-famous chef José Andrés with “10 bodyguards and all kinds of people you find in the street,” said Andrés, who might have been miffed that Fieri failed to recognize him.

Hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen in October 2013 paid Fieri $100,000 to be his “friend for a day” as part of a promotional event for “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” It led to an actual friendship — Fieri even featured Cohen’s favorite hot-dog place in Fairfield, Conn., on the show. Supermodel Gigi Hadid was smitten, too. When Fieri turned up at a Sports Illustrated-sponsored celebrity volleyball match in 2014, she said, “I almost couldn’t breathe . . . I was just trying to find his hair and thought, I really want him to see me serve an ace.”

But in 2014, Fieri spilled the beans to a Las Vegas paper that Times Square was “a licensing deal . . . I make the idea and give it to a group . . . I make the recipes” but he had no control over how they were cooked.

They didn’t get better. When I dropped into the half-empty house last year out of curiosity, medicinal-tasting “volcano” chicken seemed to erupt from a poisoned cauldron inside the former newspaper plant’s ink vats. But Carmine’s just a few doors away was packed. It might not be Marea, but it’s a lot truer to its Italian roots than Guy’s American Kitchen was to its supposed Yankee Doodle inspiration.

The past two Novembers, some 100 spike-haired, goatee-flaunting Fieri impersonators mounted “FieriCon,” a boozy Times Square pub crawl modeled on SantaCon. Participants guzzled Colt .45 malt liquor and spewed vape, but were “better behaved than the depraved, vomitous Santas,” The Post reported.

Now, the party’s over. A rep for the landlord, Kushner Companies, told The Post, “We came to an amicable, mutual agreement on suspension of the lease.” The Real Deal magazine reported the old rent was $1.8 million a year. That price for 16,000 square feet was typical five years ago, when the space was owned by a different company, but cheap for today’s Times Square.

There’s an even more bitter ending for Fieri’s fans. All the restaurant’s $3 million contents — kitchen and bar widgets, chairs, tables and nostalgic fake posters like “Levi’s, America’s Finest Overall Since 1850”— were to be auctioned off down to the last toothpick.

But the auction has been canceled. So Fieri fanatics won’t even be able to pick up the crumbs.

Let’s hope the next restaurant to come along learns the lesson of Guy’s — a sucker might be born every minute, but Times Square suckers aren’t all as dumb as they seem.

Source: https://nypost.com/2018/01/04/good-riddance-to-guy-fieris-times-square-tourist-trap/

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