Building authentic brands.
What is modern fatherhood? How do you build an authentic brand, and remain true to it over time? How do you pitch a show to Food Network? Is being in reality TV worth it? All these and more are answered in this week’s episode of Building While Flying—so buckle up, it’s gonna be a ride!
” I mean I'm currently working on being an awesome dad. I mean that's my number one priority.Ryan FeyCo-creator & Co-host of The Grill Dads on Food Network
Killing Don Draper and Redefining Modern Fatherhood with Ryan Fey
Katie Hankinson (00:02):
Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson.
Mickey Cloud (00:04):
And I’m Mickey Cloud and welcome to Building While Flying, a new podcast from The Sasha Group where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient, and navigate ever-changing skies.
Mickey Cloud (00:16):
Ryan Fey, welcome to Building While Flying. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Ryan Fey (00:28):
Mickey Cloud (00:29):
We’re going to touch on a lot of your entrepreneurial kind of ventures today. You’re the co-creator and co-host of two Food Network shows, Grill Dads and Comfort Food Tour. You’ve founded an advertising agency called Omelet and now a creative consultancy called Some Friends of Ours. So I guess as we start to dive into all these areas, you got a lot of irons in the fire. How do you answer the question, “What are you currently working on?”
Ryan Fey (00:55):
I’m currently working on treading water actually. That’s probably the best way of putting it. No, I mean I’m currently working on being an awesome dad. I mean that’s my number one priority. So as long as I can figure out how to be a good role model for my kid Zoe and to help her along. I mean she’s the true champ in the equation because she’s dealt with not going to her new middle school in the pandemic, she’s never even set foot as a sixth grader into her new school, and she’s crushing it on Zoom. So I mean I’m very fortunate to have a kid that is an adaptive learner, unlike me. I mean I’m one-track mind, like all about pretty pictures, less words and Zoe seems to be the one that has it figured out. So that’s what I’m trying to do right now.
Mickey Cloud (01:40):
Awesome. So talk to me I guess about … You’ve had experience in corporate environments and agency environments, in front of the camera, behind the camera, and speaking about Zoe and seeing kind of how she’s been growing up, what were you like growing up? Were you a performer, kind of storyteller and you kind of learned to make a business career out of that or were you someone who built businesses as a kid and saw kind of your creative talents as an outlet for that?
Ryan Fey (02:07):
That’s an awesome question, actually I’ve never had it posed that way. I was the quintessential give me the microphone kid growing up. Probably to an excessive point to where my parents were like … I mean I feel bad for David and Cheryl many times, I mean especially as you get older, I’m like, “Man, Mom and Dad, I’m so sorry the way I did everything back then.” They’re like, “No, you were just a silly manic kid and we couldn’t really stop you and you had your own ideas about everything and if there was a microphone around you’re grabbing it.” Yeah, I was a performer. I was a kid, I was a good student. I worked hard but at the same time, I hate to say it, I’m from a very small town, a rural town in Ohio and I wouldn’t say academics is top of the list. So your kind of like more practical skills are like … What you’re taught, like waking up at the crack of dawn to go out in the fields. I mean that’s legitimately the area, and by the way, it’s fantastic. Like some of my old school crew, they’re all still there. I’m like one of the few guys that actually kind of I would say “left” my environment. It just couldn’t hold me. It just couldn’t hold me.
Ryan Fey (03:15):
My dad and mom knew it at a super young age. They’re like, “Well, that guy is going to leave.” I mean I was pretty … I think I was 12 and I was like … I remember marching up to my mom saying, “Mom, that’s it. I’m not eating any more fucking meatloaf. I’m done. I need to go somewhere else to see people that don’t look like me and I’m going to New York.” She’s like, “You’re 12.” I’m like, “Right. When I get old enough, I’m moving to New York.”
Ryan Fey (03:43):
So that was a goal of mine from a very young age. But yeah, the idea of starting a business was never a goal of mine. My goal was to build a lifestyle that I actually enjoy, and not as in like leisure as in like I want to work hard, I like to work hard, and my equation always dealt with people. Everything I’ve ever done, I’ve surrounded myself with people. Most of the time if not all of the time, that are much smarter and better than me. That’s just been a … Ironically it’s an easy one to find those kinds of people. So I was able to kind of build that but I mean I completely have been driven on sheer and utter knowledge seeking and culture seeking. That’s it man.
Mickey Cloud (04:31):
That’s awesome. So from Ohio, where was the first move to New York? What took you to L.A.? Like give us a little bit of the career path.
Ryan Fey (04:39):
Sure sure sure. Yeah, no. I went to school at Ohio University. I went to college there and I got a journalism degree which was really interesting. I was actually going to go play baseball and that didn’t work out and so I … I decided that I would try and be a writer and then I realized very quickly, after I graduated college, I got an internship with SPIN Magazine, and then it was going to turn into kind of my first job. I was like, “Man, everyone here is stoned.” Like I can’t understand a word anybody is saying and you guys only get paid this much to write? I was like, “How do you guys do it?” Like, “Oh, we work seven other jobs.” I’m like, “Well shit.” So my father, the day after graduation, dropped … He took our conversion van, drove from Ohio across the GW Bridge and dropped me off in New York on the Upper West side. Because I had found a residential hotel that looked lovely. It was called the Malibu Studios Hotel and I was like, “Dad, it’s a hotel, and the rates are amazing.” Didn’t know that it was an actually pay by the hour type of joint. I didn’t know that and I didn’t even understand what that meant. So he dropped me off, because my father doesn’t like traffic.
Ryan Fey (05:49):
So he was like, “I’m going to drop you off.” I had an air-conditioned unit, a very small one, a window unit. I had one suitcase and my guitar and I said, “Dad, you want to get some lunch?” He goes, “No, if I go now, I’ll beat traffic.”
Mickey Cloud (06:04):
Ryan Fey (06:04):
Right. It was actually like –
Mickey Cloud (06:06):
Classic dad move.
Ryan Fey (06:07):
Classic dad move. Total classic. He’s like, “I got it, son, here. Here’s $20.00.” I was pretty stubborn at the time so I was like, “I’m not calling you, I’m not asking for money, I don’t want your fucking gas card. Take your gas card back, sir. I don’t even have a card here.”
Ryan Fey (06:21):
So I kind of revolted I guess in that sense and then it got real scary real quick. Because I was like, “Wow, where’s the bathroom?” In the hallway. So I had a kitchenette, the whole thing, and I met some really good friends. I ended up sleeping on the floor for a while and I kind of started my career in New York and then I got a job at a PR agency and I was a bigmouth and so they put me in a fashion group right off the bat. Like bumpkin kid with … I had two suits, three shirts, two ties, one pair of shoes, and I wore … By the way I was the kid that had the three piece suit from JCPenney. Like I thought it was badass, I was like, “I’m walking in with a vest and had to look …” I wish I had a little watch thing in there, a little watch chain in there, but I remember … It was like literal clearance shit that I bought. I think it was actually, I remember the brand, it was called City Streets. It was a purple suit and you get too close to any flame and things just boom, going up, and I remember walking into Ruder Finn Public Relations, I’m like, “Hey, I’m Fey.” People were like, “Sit the fuck … Sit down.” I’m like, “Yes sir.”
Ryan Fey (07:25):
So as a kind of penance I guess they put me in the group that was in the fashion group. So I had to work on Liz Claiborne and [inaudible 00:07:34] Fragrances and all this other stuff. So I got a really interesting education right off the bat in New York. Worked Bryant Park for the fashion show and the whole thing, but that was awesome. Then I found my way over to Chiat Day and then Chiat Day, for whatever reason, decided at 24 years old that I should be responsible enough to be the head of PR for the New York office. Which was a bad idea all around. Yeah, and then they moved me to L.A. after a couple years of working on Madison Avenue. Yeah.
Mickey Cloud (07:59):
Well I know you’ve got … You had the next steps there were kind of deeper into the advertising world and you started Omelet Agency, but what I’d love to kind of I guess go into next is Grill Dads. You brought up Zoe, you brought up your number one job is being a dad and from what I understand it was a side hustle that kind of turned into legit TV show running production experience. So I guess … My first question about that is you and your best friend Mark pulled off what I would argue is maybe every pair of guy best friends’ dream, what they would love to [inaudible 00:08:38] –
Ryan Fey (08:38):
Unless you know Mark. Then you’d be like, “This sucks.”
Mickey Cloud (08:42):
You had a company pay you to go around the country visiting restaurants, eateries, diners, having awesome food, hanging out. So how did you land that pitch?
Ryan Fey (08:54):
Man, so as most entrepreneurs can relate, it’s funny, I talked to Gary about this quite a bit actually at one point. You get burnout and you kind of lose your creative mojo and it’s by no fault of your own, it’s just that you’ve done it for so long it becomes … Actually the second creativity becomes automatic or kind of like … It ceases to be effective, right? So I kind of felt myself, I’m like, “Man, I’m really good at making drinks. I’m great at making popcorn for my crew. I’m a Midwest guy, I’m there for love and hugs and just good times and being the voice and being someone that they can talk to.” So I’m like really good at that. But they didn’t need me. They didn’t necessarily need me to be the creative guy that I was kind of built to shop around, right? Rightfully so. They are just better, stronger, faster, more interesting and have better ideas and so instead of being the disgruntled owner that’s just like [inaudible 00:09:54] and inserts myself into meetings for no reason whatsoever, just to feel worth, I decided to gracefully not do that.
Ryan Fey (10:02):
At the same time, being creatively stifled really kind of sets you back on your ass a little bit and you’re like, “Wow. I’m in the business of creativity but I’m just doing the business.” Like I forgot about the other side. So Mark had the same … At the exact same time this happened, Mark worked for me for a long time too at Omelet but like … He had left, he went to Portland, he had a kid, like it was a travesty, took my CCO who he married and it was like this whole thing. I was super happy for them but I’m like, “You guys fucking left me.”
Mickey Cloud (10:28):
Ryan Fey (10:29):
That sucks, yeah you jerks. And they’re having their beautiful white picket fence life and all this and I was like … But Mark, Mark was creatively stifled too and we’re like, “We had been cooking together for the better part of 20 years. Just out of necessity first because we had no money. Secondly, people thought we were pretty good at it, so we kind of like … Used it as our thing.” We’d have Thanksgiving in my backyard and 60 people would show up and we would use five grills.
Ryan Fey (10:55):
So Mark and I had been doing it for so long and Mark’s wife Sarah was like, “Guys, guys, guys. Just do something about it. Like stop, stop.” And so we did. We made a little trailer of this thing called Search for California Barbecue and it was … Quite simply we wanted to define the California barbecue cuisine that hasn’t been defined. Like you go to Kansas City, like, “Oh, you get Kansas City barbecue.” You go to Texas, Texas barbecue … You can’t go to California and be like, “I want California barbecue.” Doesn’t exist. Actually it does, which is interesting. So Santa Maria dry rub tri tip, there’s all sorts of moles, there’s great Mexican influence. So being up and down the coast, you have this cool stuff and you have like very fresh ingredients and some really exotic stuff you typically wouldn’t get in the East, right?
Ryan Fey (11:41):
So we did this thing, called in some favors, filmed like 12 places in a day and just did our thing. Kind of made our show, like our pilot, right? Before we were even called The Grill Dads. I think we were in my backyard and we were drinking and Mark … We put it on Kickstarter and in two hours the thing was funded. Completely.
Mickey Cloud (12:03):
Ryan Fey (12:04):
We’re like, “Holy shit. That’s funny.” It was just a trailer. Like, “All right, we’re going to make this show and sell it to the California Visitors Bureau.” But not to make money, just because we thought it was funny.
Mickey Cloud (12:16):
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Ryan Fey (12:18):
So Mark ended up … I think we were fairly hammered and Mark sent an email to Marc Summers, he found online Marc Summers’ email address, and then sent it over to him like literally sent info –
Mickey Cloud (12:31):
Who’s Mark Summers, just for the audience?
Ryan Fey (12:33):
Marc Summers is the former host of Double Dare. He also did Unwrapped on The Food Network and he was 17 … He’s been like … He’s a giant and he’s a good friend, he’s a great guy, and he’s a comedian. Like he was on late shows, he ran a … He did a bunch of stuff, right? So he’s a pretty interesting guy. So my Mark sent him an email and said something smarmy like, “Hey man, this is the best thing you’re ever going to see, yes, we are that good,” type of thing, right? He ended up calling Mark back and said, “Hey, who are you guys?” We’re like, “We’re Mark and Fey.” He’s like, “Oh, are you guys chefs?” We’re like, “No.” “Do you guys own restaurants?” “No.” “Are you guys caterers?” “Hell no.” “What do you do?” “We’re ad guys.” He was like, “You’re ad guys?” “Yeah, we understand brands, man.” He said, “I sent it to Guy Fieri and he wants to meet you.” We’re like, “Why? For what reason? That sounds weird. Can I ride in his Camaro though?”
Mickey Cloud (13:31):
Ryan Fey (13:32):
So they sent it up north and he flew us up, and we had a conversation with him and he was like, “I think you guys should come on this show, or audition for this show called Guy’s Big Project.” We said, “Thank you, absolutely not.” We’re like, “I need someone making fun of me, more people making fun of me, like I need [inaudible 00:13:56].” Mark’s like, “I’m a grown man.” I was like, “Yeah, let’s buy Porsches instead. This is stupid. We can’t go on reality shows as our midlife crisis.”
Mickey Cloud (14:05):
Ryan Fey (14:05):
So sure enough we came back. He called us back about a month. He said, “I think you guys should really consider this. I’m not guaranteeing you’d get on the show but like you should try. There’s no funny in food. Like you guys are like literally the Dumb and Dumber of food.” We are like, “Thank you?” Like I’m not sure how to react to that … Then Sarah’s in the background going, “I told you. They just decided to put the cameras on you assholes finally. You guys are idiots.” Like literally.
Ryan Fey (14:33):
So we went on the show and I’ll give you this quick story, for the audience it will make sense, but like … The very first day we were on set, Mark and I made a pact. Our jobs on that show were to make people laugh and have a good time. Because production sucks. It’s hard, you’re sweaty, you’re wearing weird headsets all day, and the concept of hot mics is really funny to us. So we used that to our advantage so we walked on there and Mark downloaded a fart app on his phone and we’re like, “Hey, 10-1? Can we go to the honey bucket?” Mark goes in the honey bucket and unleashes the fart app and you just see the entire production crew literally falling off the chair laughing, and they’re like, “Oh, these guys, it’s these guys. Got to watch these guys.”
Mickey Cloud (15:24):
It’s these guys, yeah.
Ryan Fey (15:24):
So we became these guys, the dads, and The Grill Dads was kind of born but we deliberately constructed our narrative to build a brand from day one, from the jump. It seems like it happened overnight but t reality is we’ve been working on this kind of thing for like three years, right? Everyone’s like, “Oh my god. You just found it.” I’m like, “Man no we didn’t just find it. It was premeditated.”
Mickey Cloud (15:49):
Yep. That’s the advertising marketing PR branding side of you guys.
Ryan Fey (15:54):
You got it.
Mickey Cloud (15:54):
You just had to do it.
Ryan Fey (15:56):
Mickey Cloud (15:57):
So when you had … So you audition on Guy’s Big Project, you get on it. That then leads to … Does that then just they say, “Cool now, let’s spin you off into The Grill Dads Show,” or what kind of happened from there?
Ryan Fey (16:10):
Yeah, so the premise of the show, Guy’s Big Project, was to find the talent for another potential show. So the prize was shooting a pilot. Like that’s what you win. You won shooting a pilot. What we won was they gave us a 10-episode run before we shot anything. So we were the first group that’s ever … Unproven, untapped team that had ever been given not just a full season, extended season. So 10 episodes is actually, it was kind of an extended season, right? They plopped us on primetime right off the bat. So they had pretty good … Our numbers were great, and then they decided to … Food Network, as Food Network does, decides to change a little bit of the brand identity and kind of that stuff because of some focus group of four people sitting in an office. They changed it to Comfort Food Tour, which was kind of The Grill Dads with a different title and a different name and did that and then honestly at the end of the day, Guy is such an exceptional person on The Food Network, from a development standpoint they have a travel show that crushes it called Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Ryan Fey (17:24):
So Mark and I, we were propositioned for some other shows that honestly weren’t our thing and we have to … Mark and I very premeditatedly decided that we have to be true to our brand and that’s what we did. So ironically the shows are still on Hulu, they’re in 27 countries right now. I mean we literally get DMs from people, like, “Hey man. I saw that chicken thing last night you guys ate. Where was that?” We’re like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” It’s someone … It’s like someone in New Zealand, and they’re like, “No, from last …” We’re like, “Oh, that ran two and a half years ago, man. Like two years ago.” Like I don’t even remember what I did yesterday let alone two and a half years ago.
Mickey Cloud (18:11):
Right. [inaudible 00:18:12]
Ryan Fey (18:12):
Yeah, it’s been wild, man.
Mickey Cloud (18:15):
When you started out and you got that first 10-episode extended series, what mindset were you in? Were you like, “All right, this is the start of my television career,” or was it always like, “This is just kind of a fun thing, we’re going to see how long it takes, how far it takes us?”
Ryan Fey (18:30):
Neither. It was a marketing platform for us. So here’s what most people do. They automatically win these reality shows and they’re like, “Holy shit. I hit the big time.” Until you realize what reality TV pays talent and then you’re like, “Oh my god. I just built myself a really low paying job that takes a ton of time and guess what? I’m away from my family.” Like there’s a lot of no bueno stuff that happens when you do that and by the way, Mark and I weren’t under any misconceptions going into it. Like we … Look, we’re not spring chickens, I have a freaking white beard and I’m 45. So like … I’ve been around a minute to have enough street smarts to know that it’s not … It should not be viewed in my opinion, should not be viewed as the goal. The end goal. What it is for Mark and I is a platform to bring levity to people through food. So we like doing what we do. Mark’s an asshole, he hates people, and I’m the other side of the equation.
Ryan Fey (19:34):
So when you put these two things together, we think it’s very authentic because we’re not doing anything that we wouldn’t do and it’s truly, truly us. If he was here right now, this interview would go exactly the same way … Well it wouldn’t because it would be Mark and he wouldn’t let me talk because he’d be like, “That’s stupid, don’t say that.” But yeah, I mean I think it was a contrived, kind of very much we went into it being like, “Well if we can build a platform to make people happy and smile and also evoke some great sensory experience when you can’t eat it, taste it or smell it, what a great coup, what a great case study for a brand.” Like now I’m evoking hunger, one of the most primal, primal things you can possibly evoke, man.
Mickey Cloud (20:20):
Ryan Fey (20:20):
Yeah man, it’s a need.
Mickey Cloud (20:22):
The unmet need.
Ryan Fey (20:23):
Right. So imagine if I can harness that power to do that and then you can expand from there.
Mickey Cloud (20:29):
Well so my … That kind of leads me to my next question that I had which is I love what you guys have built with Grill Dads because of that … You built a platform now and that totally makes sense now hearing that that was the strategy. Now you’ve got spices, you’ve got apparel. I guess talk to me about that expansion into products, into apparel. I noticed you work with Spiceology, that’s kind of the platform that you’re selling through, I’m curious, what was the decision behind partnering with them versus building your own kind of D2C website and things like that so I’m curious just kind of like … Yeah, what those expansion opportunities have brought you so far and then also what else is on the horizon?
Ryan Fey (21:09):
It’s a great question. If you think about an organic or a lifestyle brand, you want to be able to have the scope to have verticals and develop IP. So look, I tried to develop IP at Omelet. Did some of it but even when talking to Gary it’s all about IP. I mean he’s like the IP master. It’s like … If it can catch a buck he’s going to sell it. So whether it’s a speech or a book or a freaking lecture or whatever, or an agency, you take a page from entrepreneurs and you’re only as good as your next thing and you keep going and keep going and keep going. It’s also so manic. I think entrepreneurs are insane people. I’m putting myself in that camp as well but if you look at what The Grill Dads is, so here’s our mission. It’s really simple. We want to reinvent what it means to be a modern dad.
Ryan Fey (22:03):
Because here’s what I hate, and by the way, any brands that hear this, if you put another dad in a fucking braided belt and a pair of khakis and New Balance sneakers, don’t call me. Because the reality is dads are portrayed so poorly in media, their gaffes, they’re just butts to the joke, they don’t know an avocado from a turnip. All they do is have a grill outside with a pair of tongs and a hot dog on it with an apron that says Kiss The Cook. I can’t describe to you how infuriating that is, and it keeps happening all the time. Mark and I are on the PTA. I’ve got a daughter. I’m an absolute feminist. When it comes to not shared responsibilities, leading with love and attention, my dad told me something a long time ago that sticks with me that I use every day. The one thing that you can give people that you care about is time. It’s not about money, it’s not about things, it’s not about access, it’s about time. So therefore you’re present. So Mark and I are present fathers, which means that we absolutely are involved. Not just involved, are co with … I’m divorced, I would hope that Amy would be like … “Fey is a co-parent beyond co-parents. Like this guy,” and I don’t complain, I cook, I clean, I write, I pay bills, I let other people pay … Like you know what I’m saying?
Ryan Fey (23:32):
That definition is something that’s our mission as The Grill Dads is to show people that we may look like Duck Dynasty or a sub-character in Game of Thrones but man, we’re present men, and the re-definition of what it means to be a man is not patriarchal actually. It’s co, and so that’s the mission, man.
Ryan Fey (23:53):
With that expands out to all of those places that you were … [inaudible 00:23:56] I was like off of my soapbox for a second but you know –
Mickey Cloud (23:59):
No, I love it. I love it because now … Spices and apparel makes sense in the context of if you’ve just seen Grill Dad but when you start to expand it out to modern fatherhood and what does that mean, you’re –
Ryan Fey (24:13):
Mickey Cloud (24:14):
A lot you can do with that.
Ryan Fey (24:15):
Yeah, and it’s coming in droves too. It’s also … The partners that we have are very deliberate that we’ve chosen. We’ve said no to some other partners that … It just doesn’t make sense for our brand because they don’t have the same value set. I mean I think when you do a collab, you have to have shared values. Regardless. Like it’s not about just throwing money. Money is money and that’s just the root of all missteps in my opinion when that’s the main motivation. So I think that if you build great content together, then you do that. We’re trying to kill Don Draper actually, so Don Draper goes golfing on Saturdays after he worked an 80 hour week. Not doing it man. Not real.
Mickey Cloud (24:57):
So do you have brands that you’re working with and partner … You said you’ve got a couple partners, what are those types of partnerships you guys have?
Ryan Fey (25:05):
So for example, there’s a Napa, California company called Chef’s Cut Jerky and they make Krave as well and their values are just so incredibly aligned with us. They expose, they’re very transparent about what they use. Where the food comes from, the process, et cetera. It’s premium stuff. Big Green Egg is an example. Like the Big Green Egg is like the Cadillac of Kamado-style grills and we love cooking on them. There’s another company called Memphis, it’s a smaller pellet grill company so they make pellet grills but they are gorgeous and their technology works and they just are a very humble group of people. They’re nice people.
Ryan Fey (25:48):
Other brands I can’t get on the phone. I’m like, “It’s not our thing.” I mean even brands like … That have nothing to do with food, like there’s a brand called Caddis which makes glasses. These guys are cool because you know what? They’re like celebrate your age and I’m not like … I sound like someone who’s 65, but like … Celebrate your age, man, and be proud of that. They make readers and progressives, right? Those guys are cool and I’m aligning myself with them. Snake River Farms is an example. Probably the best American Wagyu steak and its beef –
Mickey Cloud (26:22):
I just got one sent.
Ryan Fey (26:23):
Yeah, it’s stupid. You know what, people are like … And rightfully so, people are like, “It’s really expensive,” I’m like, “We are blessed, man.” I get a shipment of Snake River Farms every month and it’s like literally Christmas every month.
Mickey Cloud (26:35):
I got it as a gift and it’s like I’m waiting for that time to break it out.
Ryan Fey (26:41):
It’s like the wine of meat. Like the good wine of meat, you know?
Mickey Cloud (26:47):
Exactly. I want to also ask about working with your best friend. Because obviously you all seem like you have a lot of fun, the most of fun with your content and the business opportunities but do you have to work at that or I guess what keeps the friendship healthy while also kind of pursuing business opportunities?
Ryan Fey (27:03):
Great question. You know what helps keep the friendship healthy? 858 miles away is what keeps the friendship healthy. Mark lives in Boise, Boise, Idaho and I’m here in West Hollywood so … Look, when you found your … Mark’s my brother, he’s my homie. We fight hardcore like any best friends would. But at the same time, it’s a business for us too. There’s a mutual respect that comes with that. We have short-handed business because we’re best friends. Like it’s very interesting, when you see Mark and I cook together, like actually in the same space together, it’s unspoken. I will hand him an ingredient before he even asks for it and he’ll do the same for me.
Ryan Fey (27:48):
We have a dance that we’ve done and that’s just because of … It’s a large male dance. It’s like if you watch wildebeest dance in the river, that’s kind of what it might look like. But I have insane respect for Mark. Mark is the tactician of the two of us. He is the scientist. He gets this stuff.
Ryan Fey (28:11):
So it’s really … If the both of us were exactly like me, it would never work. No one wants two Feys in any context and I get that and I’m very humble with that, I’m totally cool with that. But like Mark needs me, so Mark wins the audience by reacting to what I say. So it’s not what I say actually, weirdly enough, if you look at our stuff, it’s Mark look. So he has it so dialed in because I think he’s so bored with my stuff that he smirks or just walks out of frame and that’s real, the walkaway.
Ryan Fey (28:47):
But yeah, it’s not as hard as you think if you accept it for what it is. You know what I mean? It’s like that’s the great thing, and he’s just … We catch a bullet for each other. That’s the reality is we’ve just … We’ve known each other for 23 years now and he’s my brother, so …
Mickey Cloud (29:06):
So what’s next for Grill Dads? What’s on the horizon? What are you guys working on?
Ryan Fey (29:12):
It’s going to be Summer Grill Dads, man. There’s going to be a lot of us coming out. The pandemic, as horrible as it has been, has made us focus I think as people. I think all of us have had to focus because we’ve had more time. It’s funny, time again. Spending time. Is focusing on what matters first, which is your family and being healthy and second, very close second, is what are you going to do about it. So we have really taken that to heart and tried lots of stuff. Like we do have some new products coming out. We’re actually working and developing a new line of stuff we’re very excited about and hopefully toward the end of the summer you’ll see that. We have another product, it’s a burger press that’s going to be coming out. It’s very different from stuff that’s on the market.
Ryan Fey (30:01):
As marketers, we look for needs and things that are … Well as marketers we look for people that don’t really need it but they might want it … Right, right, right. But you know look, we’re getting the volume now as a brand that people are … We’re becoming more well-known than I even ever thought we would. Outside of the TV world, we’re pretty well-known, but we have a standing gig with The Today Show and Howard Stern’s Wrap-Up Show and Wendy Williams and we’re working on getting on The Drew Barrymore Show and there’s all sorts of fun … We’re just bringing this, “Hey, it’s these guys.” Like we’re the uncles, brothers, cousins, neighbors over the fence, start and finish the party. Like that’s our thing.
Ryan Fey (30:40):
So we’re also harmless, we’re like … We’re those guys. We’re dads. We’re dads. We’re going to do … But you’re going to see a lot of constant from us, we developed something in December, we hated everything we were doing. Like most disgruntled creatives, you’re like, “I am terrible. I wouldn’t watch us.” I’m like, “This is boring. I hate my face. Everything I say is dumb.” Mark and I, we were like, “We have to figure this out.” So we decided what can we do that honestly no one else can do. I know it sounds like a crazy big ask. “Well how about we cook together apart?” Because he lives in Boise. So now we’re using this mechanism, we built this kind of platform that’s unique to us which actually is being copied currently which is really interesting. We’ll talk about that another time. Which is fine. Nice form of flattery. But we’re passing stuff back and forth through our frame. So when you see us cook on Insta or Facebook or Tik or whatever, Mark … I’m handing Mark an ingredient to put in the blender, or he’s tossing an Asian pear that goes right into my blender and it’s coordination and we’re getting really good at it. So it’s been a blast to do that but we’re making the same meals. Same exact dish, right? But that’s been cool. It’s a bit of a re-invention on a re-invention. So we’re still questing to do better.
Mickey Cloud (32:03):
Love it. Last question for you, we love this … The show is called Building While Flying, we love that analogy because it speaks to kind of the nimbleness, the flexibility, the foresight you kind of need to have to operate your own thing. But also because pilots are kind of renowned for their inflight checklist, right? So when shit hits the fan, they stay calm under pressure and they can navigate so what’s your checklist of like your back’s against the wall or you got to make a tough decision. What helps get you through that?
Ryan Fey (32:31):
The concept of not being precious with the stuff. Ego’s the thing that kills it all.
Mickey Cloud (32:39):
Ryan Fey (32:40):
Take it out of the equation. Be humble about it. Actually, this is my life advice for any creative or any person is … I know everyone’s like leave your ego at the door. Well that’s not possible because it’s part of you. It’s inherent in you, but take it from ego in a negative and put it to a positive which means it’s a driving force to do better and realize that you can use it as motivation versus a deterrent. When Mark and I get stuck, a lot of Miller High Life.
Mickey Cloud (33:13):
Ryan Fey (33:14):
A lot of champagne and beers. Maybe some Ole Smoky, I don’t know, you’re familiar with that.
Mickey Cloud (33:20):
Yep. Yep yep.
Ryan Fey (33:22):
But I think just … Never settling and thinking that that’s it. Like that even right now, I mean we can’t … We’re so excited about that we don’t know. I think that’s the biggest piece, man. I’m such a … Such a sponge for more, more stuff and more experiences and I think you can’t understand what a fall feels like until you trip. So trip. Have a good trip, and if you’re going to fucking fall, fall. Legitimately fall.
Ryan Fey (33:56):
I always tell people if you’ve never been hit, you don’t know what it’s like to be in a fight, so don’t talk to me about fighting. Like if you haven’t taken a punch … You know what I mean? It’s a horrible thing to say, because especially in the era we’re in, don’t take a punch for everyone who is listening, but the metaphor, it’s a metaphor unless you’re a country kid and you take punches but I think you have to feel that a little bit to have perspective and that’s the flying checklist is. Yeah you’re right, don’t freak out. Just realize where it came from. Where that problem came from. It’s almost like you’re an investigative reporter at that point. Same thing with the checklist about flying. You’re just … Oh, so that little red thing is going off? Oh shit. The problem is not the red thing. The problem is what happened to make it go off. So you got to go back and check the whatever. I don’t fly, so …
Mickey Cloud (34:46):
Well awesome. Well Ryan, appreciate your time and super excited to see what comes next for The Grill Dads and what [inaudible 00:34:55].
Ryan Fey (34:55):
Yeah, you too man. Keep hustling. James and the crew, you guys are well-respected. I think it’s pretty awesome, so keep rocking.
Katie Hankinson (35:06):
Well, now that we’ve finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land. But before we do, Mickey and I spend some time unpacking some of the key takeaways that really stuck out to us.
Mickey Cloud (35:17):
We liken this to the post-game show, where we break down the really extraordinary nuggets that we can all benefit from, including us here at The Sasha Group. So get ready for The Sasha Sidebar.
Katie Hankinson (35:35):
Hey Mickey, what a great conversation with you and Fey.
Mickey Cloud (35:38):
Yeah. Catching up with Fey.
Katie Hankinson (35:39):
Which I have retitled A Chat Between Two Dads.
Mickey Cloud (35:44):
I’ll take it.
Katie Hankinson (35:45):
Yeah. I thought … [inaudible 00:35:48] it was great to hear his story. Like how he described the beginning, like the driving force of just being that creative and kind of being … Like pushing past the kind of boredom point to feeling stifled and just how deliberate and intentional they’ve been around building The Grill Dads brand.
Katie Hankinson (36:06):
I thought, and I know obviously you must have really identified with this but like the idea of everything at the core reinventing what it is to be a modern dad.
Mickey Cloud (36:15):
Yeah, I mean the fact that … I mean a), he was like … We did not start this show Grill Dads to get in television, it was a marketing platform. So it’s like, well A) that’s a great way to hack the Food Network world and Guy Fieri world is, “All right, we’re going to use this to build a marketing platform. That marketing platform is about reinventing what it means to be a modern dad,” and so it takes it way beyond just grilling recipes and seasoning and meat and kind of classic dad things but what it means to be kind of a present father and I loved his line, “We may look like Duck Dynasty but we’re present men,” and just what that meant to be kind of a partner to the person you’re parenting your child with and it’s … Yeah, like my eyes probably lit up and I just … I so was buying in to kind of that as the marketing strategy kind of behind the execution of Grill Dads.
Katie Hankinson (37:15):
Yeah, and you know just as you were saying that I was thinking it’s doubly smart in the sense that it’s … It is masquerading as a cliché, exactly the cliché that he described of like, “The guy out there with his buddies and the barbecue.”
Mickey Cloud (37:29):
Kiss the chef, yeah.
Katie Hankinson (37:29):
But like one step deeper and they’re able to explore all of these things. I wrote down what he said at the beginning when he was saying the platform is to bring levity to people through food and then their broader intention is to reinvent what it is to be a modern dad and like the whole idea that kind of food and togetherness and love and all such a powerful combination and they through humor can kind of really get to the heart of some of this stuff.
Katie Hankinson (37:59):
The other one around … The pandemic giving them a lot of focus on kind of how to think about all of this and to really kind of focus in on their business. So I just thought he said that really kind of snappily. He talked a lot about the ultimate commodity being time and focusing on what matters and then importantly what you’re going to do about it. That was a pretty succinct way of describing how a lot of the companies we’ve been speaking to have really sort of responded to this last couple years.
Mickey Cloud (38:31):
Yeah, and then even just what’s next, right? So like the new line of products that they’re launching and how like … The pandemic, yeah, has given them time to focus on some of a) focus on family and being healthy, then what are we going to do about it with the time that we’ve got and kind of reinventing some of the things that they’ve been doing, right? So they’ve always kind of done content a certain way and now they’re doing this like cooking show together apart and it’s super interesting to kind of … That way that they have continued to kind of evolve and use this time to kind of re-energize the business.
Katie Hankinson (39:07):
I love the together apart idea and the kind of … I mean just the way he was describing it, that kind of visual coordination of them both 878 miles apart or whatever it was. It’s so in tune with what we’re seeing on things like TikTok and just how creators now on like all the social platforms are playing with like optimal illusion and all that kind of stuff. It’s fun to see that.
Mickey Cloud (39:31):
Duets and everything. Yeah.
Katie Hankinson (39:32):
Mickey Cloud (39:34):
Well what’s our question for the audience?
Katie Hankinson (39:37):
Well, I think in the spirit of reinventing what it is to be a modern day, let’s ask what does that mean to you? Whether you are a dad yourself, or have one, are married to one. What does being a modern dad mean to you?
Mickey Cloud (39:57):
Boom. Love it.
Mickey Cloud (40:00):
Thanks for joining us gang and for Building While Flying with The Sasha Group today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.
Mickey Cloud (40:11):
If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode, and if you’re so kind, please rate and review us. Please we’d love feedback, so let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on Building While Flying across brands, businesses, marketing and more.
Katie Hankinson (40:25):
Original music by Fulton Street Music Group.
Welcome to Building While Flying!
This weekly podcast is brought to you by the Sasha Group. We’re the small-to-medium-sized business arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding, media, and marketing.
In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild; building the plane while flying.
Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.
Ryan Fey and his best friend Mark Anderson are redefining what it means to be modern dads.
After growing up in rural Ohio, Ryan Fey moved to New York City after college to start his career in PR and advertising. When burnout hit, Fey and his friend and work partner Mark Anderson turned to their creative side hustle, a pilot for a series about defining California barbecue. A whirlwind crowdfunding campaign and off-the-cuff email to a Food Network producer later, they met with Guy Fieri and landed a spot on Guy’s Big Project to bring their show Grill Dads to life. Several years later, the Grill Dads brand is stronger than ever—and there’s more where that came from!
In this week’s episode, Mickey and Ryan dig into each step of Ryan’s career, and how it led him to the next. From PR agencies in New York to Thanksgiving in the back yard with 60 friends in California, each step brought him closer to his goal of building a lifestyle he knew he would be happy living. Ryan breaks down each intentional phase of building Grill Dads into a platform to bring levity to others through food: from their Food Network days to exciting new developments coming later this year. Most importantly, though, Ryan says their mission of reinventing what it means to be a modern dad is what drives them and keeps their brand strong. Staying true to your brand (and yourself) isn’t always easy, but when you’re strong in your mission and vision, the results speak for themselves.
Other in-flight topics:
- Starting a career in New York City
- Pitching a show idea to Food Network
- Authenticity and staying true to your brand
- Importance of intellectual property (IP)
- Reinventing the modern dad
- Doing business with your best friend