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Whatever they call it, their friendship definitely goes beyond their physical resemblance and love of cars. “He’s living my life now. Watching him get rich and famous reminded me of me,” Hagar admits. “He would say, ‘What do I do with this money? How do I keep from getting screwed? How do I protect myself? I’ve got all these offers.’ I was like, ‘Man, I’m not sure I have all the answers, but here’s what I did.’ We’ve got that kind of relationship.”
Needless to say, when Fieri, now 53, got his big break on the Food Network, it was Hagar he went to for guidance. “When I got on TV, I called Sammy and I said, ‘Hey man, I’m just doing this thing. Got any advice for me?’ And he said, ‘Keep doing what got you here.’ Sammy’s real straight to the punch. There is no bullshit.” Hagar showed his support in other ways, too. “I asked him if he’d do my cooking show with me. He said, ‘Hell, yeah!’, jumped in his car and came up north [he lives about an hour away]. So everything was going great. I got to hang out with a legend, somebody I really admire, and that was it.”
But then…dun dun dun: cue onomatopoeic three-note dramatic guitar solo sting here.
Although they can’t quite remember who called whom — each retells this part of their history differently (although for his part, Fieri’s vote is for his business partner’s version of things: “Sammy has a memory like a f—ing elephant. He remembers everything — he’s got a way better memory than I do!”) — the bottom line is that some very significant news was shared on one particular day in 2007, news that would impact their professional future. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had officially sold Cabo Wabo. (The Campari Group purchased an 80 percent stake the company at that time for $80 million; it bought the remaining 20 percent in 2010.)
In Fieri’s recollection, the story goes like this: “One day, Sammy called and he says, ‘Guy Bones, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.’ I said, ‘What’s the good news?’ He says, ‘Brother man, I just made a hundred million dollars.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s f—ing great news. What’s the bad news?’ He says, ‘Brother man, I sold Cabo Wabo.’ I said, ‘You’re selling a lot of it?’ He said, ‘No, I sold the company.’ I said, ‘Well, amen for you, bro, but if you ever, ever, ever do tequila again, I want in.’ He told me it wasn’t going to happen because he had a non-compete. Fast-forward five or six years, and he starts Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. I call him and go, ‘Red Rocker, what the f–k! You started a rum? You said you were going to call me.’ He goes, ‘You said tequila.’ Well, shit. He was right.”
Many more years passed. By this time, Fieri was indisputably a star — the guy everyone referred to as the face of the Food Network. He was a New York Times best-selling author with restaurants all over the country and more TV shows under his belt than seemed humanly possible. But when he received a call from Hagar with the vague demand “Guy Bones, are you in?”, he didn’t hesitate. “I was like, Am I in what? But I said, ‘Yeah, Sammy, I’m in.’ And he goes, ‘We’re in the tequila business, baby!’”
And with that declaration, a partnership was born. Out of it came Santo.
The idea came to Hagar as he was driving through Guadalajara and saw wild agave growing at the base of a cross (in Mexico, crosses, shrines and flowers typically denote grave sites or a spot where someone has died). He thought the image was beautiful, that
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there was something about it that suggested strength, so he snapped a photo and put his phone away. At the time, he had been toying with the idea of launching a second tequila brand, but nothing was concrete. Many months later, when he was ready to turn his concept into a fully formed reality, the word “saint” came to him. His Mexican partner, third-generation master distiller Juan Eduardo Nuñez of El Viejito, a famous distillery in the highlands of Jalisco, explained that the Spanish word for “saint” was “santo.”