PORTLAND – A television crew from the Food Network is in town this week to profile two waterfront restaurants for its “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” show.
Becky’s Diner, which takes pride in opening its doors at 4 a.m. every day, kept its doors shut until 2 p.m. Tuesday to create a closed set for the show’s crew and its host, self-styled “culinary rock star” Guy Fieri.
In the afternoon, Fieri and the crew headed down Commercial Street to the Porthole Restaurant on Custom House Wharf.
As he does whenever he profiles a restaurant, Fieri spent time with the kitchen staffs, cooking some of their signature dishes.
The national cable network didn’t compensate the restaurants for the lost income, but Becky Rand, who owns Becky’s, said the exposure on national TV is worth a lot more than a day’s receipts. Plus, it’s a lot of fun, she said.
“It’s been an honor to be on their show, and any restaurant would love to have them come,” Rand said.
She said Becky’s will be closed again from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday because the TV crew will be back to get images of some of the menu items.
She declined to give more details, remembering that she might have signed some document stipulating that she wasn’t supposed to talk to the local press without permission from the network.
The diner opened on Hobson’s Wharf in 1991, thanks to an exception to the city’s zoning prohibiting non-marine businesses on the waterfront. Rand had successfully argued that fishermen needed a place that would open early enough to serve them before they went work. The restaurant is closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Allison Page, vice president of programing for the Food Network, said Becky’s has everything the show looks for — great characters and great food.
“They open early enough for the lobstermen to get fed and they serve real deal New England seafood,” she said in an e-mail message.
Oliver Keithly, who owns the Porthole Restaurant, said the producers didn’t tell him why they chose his restaurant.
But he believes the restaurant, which opened in 1929 as a coffee shop and candy store, has an “authenticity” that can’t be duplicated.
He said he hasn’t changed the Porthole much since he bought it 12 years ago. It has the same copper countertop and bar stools it had in the 1920s, an open kitchen so customers can see the food being prepared, and plenty of lobster buoys hanging on the walls.
His customers seem to be a cross-section of Maine society, he said. It’s not unusual to see lawyers sitting next to lobstermen in their slickers.
“It’s a great snapshot of Maine every single day,” he said.
The national publicity will be a boost not just to the Porthole and Becky’s, he said, but to all restaurants and tourist-related businesses in the city.
Officials at Food Network didn’t say when the shows will air. “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” usually airs on Mondays at 10 and 10:30 p.m., Fridays at 9 and 9:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 and 3:30 p.m.
Fieri, 42, has been the show’s host since it premiered in April 2007. The laid-back Californian sports a signature look that includes bleached spiky hair, sunglasses on the back of his head and bowling shirts.
Rand, who’s a big fan of the show, said she enjoyed being interviewed by Fieri. “He’s just a sweetheart,” she said.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]