John and Genevieve Conley certainly know how to throw a TV- viewing party! More than 200 guests packed into the couple's Salsa Brava restaurant on East Route 66 Monday night to watch the premier of a Food Network "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" segment featuring their Mexican-style grill.
Responding to special invitations, locals feasted on complimentary appetizers before the show aired at 8 p.m.
"This is huge for Salsa Brava, and it's huge for Flagstaff," said John Conley, who has been in the restaurant business for 20 years in Flagstaff. "We have seven million viewers tonight. It's the No. 1-viewed show on the Food Network now. It's a win-win for Flagstaff."
A FUN SHOOT
According to the Food Network Web site, the segment, "Return to Route 66," is an eastward tour of Route 66, with stops at Salsa Brava, billed as a "family-style restaurant serving scratch-made Southwest favorites," a diner in Albuquerque and a "joint" in Chicago.
Conley said network people told him the Flagstaff segment would be the lead, because "it was the strongest of the three" restaurants profiled.
"Diners, Drive- ins and Dives," affectionately called "Triple D" by regular viewers, is hosted by Guy Fieri, who was given his own show in 2006 when he beat out seven other contestants during season two of "The Next Food Network Star."
Fieri created quite a stir when he came to town Oct. 21, 2008, to shoot a segment at Salsa Brava and another at Brandy's Restaurant & Bakery.
The star starts each show from the network's red Chevrolet SS Camaro convertible and is instantly recognizable with his signature bleached-blond and spiked hair, a goatee, earrings and wild sunglasses.
"We had a lot of fun when they were shooting here," said Genevieve Conley, the mother of the three Conley children, ages 3 to 12. "They were really cool with the kids."
The Salsa Brava chef, 43, said he started his career here during his senior year at NAU's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
"My family thought I was nuts," he said. "I started cooking when I was 13. I just knew it was what I wanted to do."
PROUD OF JOHN
Salsa Brava almost missed a spot on the show, Conley said.
"When they called me, I didn't know who they were," he said. "I have rabbit ears and four channels on the TV at home. They next day, they called me back and asked if I'd looked at this thing. Then I looked at it and said, 'This would be a gift from god; I'd be a fool not to do this.'"
In addition to the Route 66 location, Conley used to operate a Salsa Brava on the west side of town and another in Page. He also used to own Strombolli's Italian Restaurant, but when they were expecting their third child, the couple decided to downsize and simplify by selling the other restaurants.
"I had become a bean counter, so we sold them," Conley said. "I was never in the kitchen."
Guests intently watched the segment as Conley and Fieri whipped up some killer salsas and stuffed poblano peppers with shrimp and lobster.
They gave the Conleys big applause when it was over.
"It's great; we're on the map!" said Dr. Jann Shiels, who was sitting with friends at one of the tables. "I can never find out when the show is on, but I made a point of finding out when John told us about it."
Julie Pastrick, president of the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, was sitting next to Shiels.
"It's not every day you have national exposure on a channel as important as the Food Network," she said. "We're just so proud of John. He so deserves it."
Folks filed out into the crowded parking lot after the show.
"It couldn't happen to a nicer guy," said Steve Saville, business development director at the Student Media Center at NAU. "The way he brought the community together, his family and his staff, he made it about the whole community, not just himself."
Betsey Bruner can be reached at 556-2255 or email@example.com.
If You Go …
WHAT: "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,"
Food Network Episode DV0509H, "Return to Route 66"
WHEN: To see the show again, tune in
Friday, 10 p.m., (NPG Cable Channel 53), but be sure to check local listings
NOTE: An airdate for the episode at Brandy's has not been set, said staff at the restaurant on East Cedar Avenue.