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The traveling friendship of Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar

Sammy Hagar and Guy Fieri at Lone Mountain Ranch in Montana.  (Philip Faraone)
Sammy Hagar and Guy Fieri at Lone Mountain Ranch in Montana. (Philip Faraone)
By Natalie B. Compton Washington Post

Famously blond. Incredibly wealthy. Devoted to wearing sunglasses indoors. Not only do celebrity friends and business partners Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar share similar traits, they also share similar frequent-flier lifestyles.

Fieri, 53, of Food Network fame, travels the country doing what celebrity chefs do: hosting TV shows and opening restaurants on land and sea. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and former Van Halen frontman Hagar, 74, continues to tour and tend to his many endeavors.

Somewhere in between all of that, they co-own a tequila brand, Santo Spirits, which takes them to Mexico to a distillery in Jalisco – even during the pandemic. The two have tequila to thank for their friendship, although their bond started long before Santo.

Hagar got his start in the spirits business in 1996 with his tequila brand Cabo Wabo, long before “celebrity liquors” became regular fixtures on store shelves. He sold 80% of his interest in the company for a reported $80 million in 2007 and his remaining stake in 2010. Cabo Wabo tequila serendipitously brought him and a yet-to-be-famous Fieri together decades ago.

The pair talked about travel, tequila and their relationship’s origin story.

First of all, happy belated birthday, Sammy.

Hagar: Well, thank you. I’m still celebrating.

Fieri: He does not act his age, nor does he look it, so he just keeps going.

Hagar: My birthday’s on (Oct.) 13, but I started on the 1st in Huntington Beach. Then I went to Catalina for three nights to do a birthday bash there, and then I headed down to Cabo (San Lucas).

It sounds like you’ve had a tradition of going down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for your birthday for years. Is that because of your tequila, or did that come before?

Hagar: It started with the tequila. When I first tasted good tequila, it was way back in about ’85. I bought a condo in Cabo when the first condo units were there – there was nothing else, just all dirt roads and everything – and I tasted real tequila. One percent agave tequila; I don’t even know what kind it was.

My friend said, “Let’s go to Guadalajara, I’ll take you to the town of Tequila and show you all these little places.” I went there, and it just blew my mind. I decided I was going to build a tequila bar in Cabo – Cabo Wabo. Then I had to go down and find my own tequila.

Guy Fieri was my No. 1. He sold more Cabo Wabo tequila out of his two little restaurants back then. He wasn’t a star yet; he was a real chef back then. He was behind the stove, baby, with a hat on. He had that spiked-up hair underneath the hat, though.

Anyway, he sold more Cabo Wabo than anyone and won a contest, so I went and met him after my show. He took the guitar that he’d won, flipped it over and served me sushi. I thought, this guy can be a friend. And here we are in business together like 30 years later, almost.

That is a wild origin story. I’m sure you’ve gone to Mexico together quite a bit.

Fieri: I was going to Mexico a lot then, not knowing Sammy, but going down and enjoying real tequila. Cabo Wabo was the real deal. I remember selling it in my restaurants like, this is a different level. And so I was the No. 1 seller at my restaurants. Maybe I brought home several hundred cases to my house. Let’s not talk about that.

But when Sammy called me, I was shooting “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” off the coast of Seattle, and (he) told me that he’d sold Cabo Wabo. I was heartbroken. The next sentence out of my mouth was “If you ever do this again, can I be involved?” I’ve always wanted to make real tequila. So 10 years later, he calls me and tells me that we’re getting started.

You’re trying to release a new añejo (an aged tequila) soon. Are you guys going down to Mexico to the distillery? And is that more challenging because of the pandemic?

Hagar: Guy and I happen to have airplanes; we’re very fortunate. So we took a few guys down there to get (the añejo) right, to get the barrels (they’re aged in) right.

But now they send us samples across the border. We go down and check it.

Can you take as much liquid as you’d like if you’re flying in a private plane?

Fieri: No, I just got busted the other day.

Hagar: I’ve had the same problem. You’re only allowed so much, and when you’re over that, they take it. And when they see this good tequila, they’re going, “You’ve got too much. We need these three cases for us.”

Do you have to do coronavirus testing on your own because you are flying private? How do you have to go through COVID protocols if you’re not flying commercial?

Hagar: Yeah, you have to get COVID tests done to come in and out even if you’re flying privately. Even if you’re vaccinated. It’s pretty crazy. We don’t want to get political, but that drives me nuts. Wait a minute, I got my vaccination, I thought that was going to allow me to travel freely? But you still got to shove that thing up your nose.

But hey, anything for the freedom. I would shove that thing up my nose every day if that’s what I had to do.

With both of your jobs being very heavily travel-focused, what are you both thinking the future of travel looks like right now? What’s changed for you?

Fieri: I gotta say this. There’s a lot of people who are making a lot of sacrifices to keep travel going for folks. I think that Sammy and I have kind of a unique situation with it. But people are learning to adapt and overcome.

I’m coming from the restaurant industry, and there were times when people were going through airports, and there were no restaurants even open. People couldn’t get coffee.

So I say a big thank you to everybody in the industry, especially the hospitality industry, who are battling through this and making themselves available to support these travelers, especially during the holiday times. Because, as we all know, traveling during the holidays in whatever method you use is challenging.

Hagar: I think everyone is getting used to how we’re going about our lives right now. From being held back for so long, I think everyone’s willing to do anything they have to do and can do. Everyone’s coming around little by little. Man, if I’ve got to get my vaccination, I’m gonna go do it. If I’ve got to wear a mask, I’m going to wear a mask. I’m just not going to be held back anymore.

I think everyone’s just kind of getting used to it. That’s what I felt in Cabo last time I was down there. People down there are paying attention, and they’re not getting down there and being reckless.

And, honestly, the COVID situation in Cabo is way down because everyone paid attention and did what they had to do. … It’s really great, and I hope it stays that way because it’s a huge tourist town, and tourist towns are the hardest ones to control.

But I got to tell you, Cabo, the government down there and the authorities, they did a good job of putting the hammer down. It’s loosening up a lot now … everything’s really good in Cabo right now.

Are you going to be traveling during the holidays together? And if so, where are you going to go?

Hagar: Well, I’m personally going to Cabo for Thanksgiving, and I’m going to come back for four shows in Texas in the first part of December. Then I’m going right back to Cabo through Christmas to New Year’s. While I’m there, I’ll take probably at least one trip to Jalisco to go see the factory and see how that añejo is doing because it’s coming out in January, I think. We’re pulling it out of the barrels if it’s right.

Fieri: It’s going to be done, Sammy, right in time for my birthday (Jan. 22). That’s the message I’ve been sending down to everyone in the highlands (of Jalisco).

I stay in Northern California (for the holidays). Sammy and I live about 30 minutes apart here in Northern California. But my youngest son is still in high school, so we do a lot of things that are located around this area. We have a ranch outside Napa, so we go up to the ranch.

But do we have people hinting to us that they would love Santo gear and the Santo gift package of the trio with the mezquila, the blanco and the reposado. As people send me these subtle hints that they would love some Santo-engraved shot glasses, I just subtly hint to them that there’s a fantastic website to visit, and they can go get their own. You can buy all the Santo you want and send it to me, and I’ll sign it, but, no, I’m not sending signed bottles to everyone in your office.

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