Larry Munch, owner of Munch's Sundries & Restaurant, first started noticing a change back in April. In March his St. Petersburg diner — straight out of 1952, festooned with historic Lakewood Elementary class pictures chronicling the wince-worthy haircuts of those days — was visited by Guy Fieri.
With a wince-worthy hairdo of his own, he was focusing on the local icon for a segment of Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The segment aired Monday evening, but for months it was listed on the show's website as one of the season's destination.
The results? A serious up-tick in business, even in these hard times.
"I'm just surprised by how far people will drive," said Munch on Thursday in a lull after the lunch rush. "If you use your smart phone to pull up the closest Diners, Drive-ins and Dives location, we come up, along with Ted Peters."
The show did not give Munch a sneak preview of his segment, but gave him enough advance warning that he managed to have a preview party Monday night at Ferg's, to which 300 well-wishers flocked.
"There were old employees there who had worked for my parents back 30 years ago."
Since the airing, business has boomed, especially in the sale of cream chipped beef and Texas hash (both showcased on the segment).
Says Munch, "We've been laughing that for every five orders, three of them come in with a side of Texas hash. That includes hamburgers."
As is his custom, Fieri painted a stencil-drawing of his own image on the wall, as well as signing some Munch's merchandise and one of Fieri's own chef knives. A signed hat, T-shirt and the knife are being raffled ($5 per ticket, five for $20), and more than $2,000 has been raised this week to benefit local fallen police officers. Munch's will hold the drawing on Sunday.
Larry Munch's own star has risen. His friends and family, he explains "are still giving me a hard time." But for the influx of new customers, he's started signing autographs (his tagline: "Grilling and smoking, Larry Munch," with the date).
"People are coming in who haven't been here in 30 years. We usually have our meetings at one of the booths. Now we have to go and hide in the kitchen because we get interrupted so much."
Such is the price of fame.