’90 BS Hospitality Administration
Fred C. Albrecht Outstanding Alumnus of the Year
The world knows Guy Fieri as the “culinary rock star” — the spiky-haired celebrity chef, restaurateur, best-selling author, peddler of barbecue sauces, salsas, and booze (the latter as a partner with an actual rock star, Sammy Hagar), and host of multiple food-centric television shows, notably Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Rebels know Guy Fieri as one of their own, a proud alumnus who is quick to wave the UNLV flag wherever his travels take him and just as quick to tell anyone willing to listen how great the school’s 1990 national champion men’s basketball team was (because he witnessed that team firsthand as a student).
Very few, however, know Fieri as the man who is as passionate about paying it forward as he is about finding the world’s tastiest Cuban sandwich. Case in point: Last year, Fieri spearheaded the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With Fieri rallying support from more than 50 companies and organizations and 15,000 individual donors, more than $23.5 million was raised to support 43,000 restaurant workers across the nation who suffered pandemic-related financial hardships.
The Restaurant Employee Relief Fund sits atop a mountain of philanthropic undertakings that Fieri launched or supported over the years. A sampling of others: He established Cooking With Kids, which encourages children to eat healthy and addresses childhood obesity; he’s prepared and served meals to firefighters and first responders combating California wildfires; he’s a longtime supporter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation (once earning the organization’s top award); and as a guest of the U.S Navy and in partnership with Armed Forces Entertainment, he’s visited military troops from the Persian Gulf to Guantanamo Bay.
Then, of course, there’s his ongoing engagement with his alma mater — and particularly, the Harrah College of Hospitality. In addition to financial gifts, Fieri has shared his wisdom with students in food-and-beverage classes; served as an industry adviser for Hospitality College administrators; and volunteered as a guest speaker and/or host of various university events. And because he champions UNLV everywhere he turns, Fieri has turned a national spotlight on the university, resulting in countless students choosing to attend his alma mater.
One of those students? His son, Hunter, a 2019 Hospitality College graduate.
And to think, it all started with a nudge from Fieri’s father.
“I was attending a junior college in Sacramento in the mid-1980s when my dad called and told me about UNLV,” Fieri said. “Right off the bat, I knew it was the school for me. A hospitality school in the epicenter of the world’s largest hospitality city? It had to be the best. And it was — and still is.”
How did your experiences at UNLV shape your life and career?
UNLV’s direct relationships with hotels, restaurants, and casinos — along with having access to great industry professionals-turned-professors like John Stefanelli and Vince Eade — gave me immediate contact, insight, and awareness of what was happening throughout the industry.
As your celebrity has grown, so has your support for and commitment to UNLV. Can you explain the reason for this boundless sense of duty that you have for your alma mater?
Giving back is how I was raised. UNLV gave me so much in the way of education and support, so it is my honor to reciprocate that support back to the greatest hospitality school in the country.
Describe the moment when being part of the culinary world went from casual interest to intense passion?
I never had a casual interest in the culinary world. I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid, and even then I knew I would grow up to be a chef and own a restaurant. But the next level was joining the Food Network, which gave me the opportunity to help my brothers and sisters in the restaurant world achieve their goals.
Drawing from your experience, what three things should every UNLV hospitality student strive to have a boundless supply of?
Experience, experience, and more experience. Because inside all that experience, you will acquire the skills and talents you need to succeed, everything from communication and problem-solving abilities to learning about the importance of teamwork, planning, and perseverance. So I would say this to today’s students: Anytime you’re given an opportunity to work in the hospitality industry, take it — even if it’s not in your direct area of interest.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one piece of practical advice you would give to your 20-year-old self?
Don’t be so eager to jump straight into work — take a moment to consider pursuing an advanced education, internships, and/or training. Because once you get on the freight train of business, it’s difficult to slow down and gain some of the knowledge you wish you had.
What does the phrase “Rebel spirit” mean to you?
It means we adapt, we overcome, we create, we inspire, and we never say never. There’s only one city that truly embodies “Rebel spirt” — it’s the one that goes 24/7, 365.