Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, best known to many as “The Hearty Boys,” made a name for themselves in Chicago with their popular Boystown catering company. Their Halsted Street headquarters has changed over the years, beginning as a catering company, then becoming a café, and, most recently, a full-fledged, sit-down restaurant, HB. With Chicago under their belts, Smith and McDonagh have set their sights on becoming household names. They appeared on a reality show, The Next Food Network Star, where more than 50,000 online votes from viewers crowned them winners during a live broadcast. The prize was their own show on The Food Network, Party Line With Dan And Steve, which will première at 8:30 a.m. on September 18. During their first week of filming in New York, The Hearty Boys spoke with The A.V. Club about the art of entertaining guests and their plans to form a gang of Chicago reality stars.
The A.V. Club: How did you get involved with The Next Food Network Star?
Dan Smith: We had seen the commercials on TV right around Thanksgiving. We were busy because of the holidays, but we had employees that were like, “Guys, you have to send in a tape.” So we listened to them, and we sent the tape in overnight because we waited so long to make it.
Steve McDonagh: We were cautiously optimistic. We’ve been hoping to do a cooking show for a while, and it just seemed like a really great opportunity. We were hoping they would call. We didn’t realize that we would be one in ten thousand.
AVC: Are you fans of reality shows?
DS: Huge reality fans.
SM: We watch all those—Survivor and American Idol. And I think what’s kind of cool about Food Network Star was that it was more American Idol than Survivor.
DS: It was more of a talent search than reality show.
AVC: Was the competition fun?
DS: It was everything. It was very enjoyable, but there were times when it was very stressful as well. It was emotional. Going through the eliminations surprised both of us in that we didn’t know these people very well to start out with, but when Brook was eliminated the second night, we were really upset.
SM: Yeah, because you’re all going for the same goal. Every moment is together, so when somebody leaves, it’s a bummer. And that was a surprise.
AVC: Now that you’re reality stars, do you hang out in an underground network of reality-show people?
SM: It is funny you mention that. Do you know who Wayne Johnson is?
DS: He won Today’s Domestic Diva.
SM: He does some local stuff. We did the morning spot with him on The Today Show, and we were saying that we should go out with him, and…
DS: Bill Rancic [winner of The Apprentice] and Jen from The Bachelorette—all the Chicago reality stars should go out and have drinks.
SM: We’ll be some scary gang!
AVC: Yeah, you just need cameras to follow you around.
SM: That’s happening right now. As we’re taping our series, there’s a show on the Fine Living Network that’s following us at the same time. It’s very Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback.
AVC: Is doing the actual series less stressful than the competition?
DS: I think it’s a different kind of pressure. You know, the pressure is off in terms of having to go to an elimination at the end of the night. I guess they could fire us, but I think it’s different because this time we know where we stand. The pressure is that we’ve got to pull through now.
AVC: How long will the series be?
DS: We have six episodes that we’re taping; that was the prize, if you will, for winning Food Network Star. Then we’ll see how well it’s received by the public.
SM: It would be ideal if we could continue with the network before we take over the world, but we’ll have to see what happens.
AVC: What can we expect on the show?
DS: Each show is going to be geared toward a different type of party that you might have in your house. So we’re going to be doing everything from starters straight through dinner to desserts.
SM: It’s going to be based on entertaining. Today, for example, we’re going to be shooting a DVD-night party. If you’re having six guests over to your house to watch a DVD, what kind of food would you prepare that would set you up for success? How do you keep the timeline going? Tips on how to keep your beer and wine cold rather than filling up your fridge. You know, party tips and recipes. Catering secrets, basically.
AVC: According to the website, your signature dish is the three-mushroom tart. Will it be on the show?
DS: It’s not going in this group of shows, just because we did it on Next Food Network Star, so we’re trying to do recipes that we haven’t already done.
SM: That’s kind of a tricky thing, having a signature recipe. Because being caterers, we work with many types of foods. I mean, we just did a Polish wedding, and we’re not Polish caterers. We love to do different types of foods for different types of events. I don’t think we truly have a signature dish, because we’re always changing. I wouldn’t really put it all on the three-mushroom tart.
DS: That was our signature dish that week.
AVC: Would you compare starting this new show to opening a new restaurant?
SM: Honestly, no. Because we have so much outside support for starting this show. We only have to worry about our stuff, which is our lines and doing our business. All the rest of it, the production team takes care of. If you’re opening a restaurant, you’re also in charge of making sure you’ve got plates, that the ceilings are painted, that the chairs are coming in. But when you have a production team, you only have to worry about your own focus.
- AVC: You started with the catering company, and then it turned into a deli?
DS: We found a spot on Halsted, and figured if we’re going to have a spot on Halsted, we have to have some sort of a presence open to the public. So six years ago, we opened it up as a gourmet takeaway. We did that for a couple of years, and the neighborhood was really asking us for coffee, so we did a coffee shop, a café. We did cappuccino and espresso, as well as lunch and a very casual dinner. So, it was all about paninis, quiche, and grilled pizzas.
AVC: Then it turned into a full-scale restaurant with brunch and dinner?
DS: Yeah, and that just happened in May.
AVC: And now you have the TV show. What's next?
SM: I’m running for president.
DS: I’m not voting for him. [Laughs.] We’re focusing on the TV show right now, and we have a cookbook in the works as well.
SM: I don’t think there is anything after that. If we can continue with the TV show and the cookbooks and stuff like that, that is about as fun as you can get. And that is our goal, to really have fun. It’s not about having a bigger caterer or more restaurants; that’s not our goal. It’s about enjoying what we do, and this is the kind of stuff we just love.