Meet Sophistafunk, Guy Fieri's Favorite Band
It all started with a phone call.
Shortly after Adam Gold's restaurant -- Syracuse's Funk-N-Waffles, a casual joint that offers exactly what it promises in both music and eats -- was featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, he got a call from the show's host, Guy Fieri.
Fieri was driving down the highway, listening to the album he'd been given just an hour earlier by Gold. It was a record by Gold's band, Sophistafunk, a trio from Syracuse that plays a blend of classic funk and hip-hop. One of the band's songs is about sending someone off into the afterlife on a dragonfly. Coincidentally, Dragonfly was the nickname Fieri had for his sister, who'd recently passed away from cancer. It was an emotional moment.
"He said, 'You guys are blowing my mind. I love this music,' " Gold recalls.
Then Guy Fieri dropped the bomb.
"He said, 'I'd love to have you perform at my birthday party.' "
And so, this past January, Sophistafunk went to California and played Guy Fieri's birthday party. The Village Voice caught up with Gold to chat about his experience working with Fieri, that New York Times review of Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, and, yep, the dude's hair.
Catch Sophistafunk tonight at Stage 48 at 8 p.m. Support their fundraiser to convert their van to run on vegetable oil here.
Tell me about the start of Funk-N-Waffles and Sophistafunk.
I went to Syracuse University. I got my bachelor's in 2006, and in my junior year we started throwing these house parties. My band at the time, late at night, we'd just start serving waffles. We thought it was just a clever way to feed people because it was so late at night, and you never see a shitty college party have food, so we just stepped up the game a little bit at the college party.
Waffles. One of those simple things that you can do a lot with.
The band was instrumental, just keys and drum, no vocals, so it was just this deep basement-groove four-hour sesh. These shows we were playing were so long. It was like, "We need to feed these people so they'll keep dancing." And you're right, waffles are very versatile, they're like little ovens. You can bake anything you want in them.
When you opened Funk-N-Waffles, how did it move from just being a college-party thing to a real thing?
Well, after the first party, we got into the pattern of every weekend at someone's house. It was a little catering service we were doing all over the city. And by the time we graduated we entered a business-plan competition. We did really well. We didn't win any awards, but the judges thought it was a good idea.
We graduated in '06 and took a road trip out to the West Coast. It was our first time on the West Coast and we wanted to get a vibe and see what it was like, with organics -- local and natural. And we brought that West Coast mentality back to Syracuse, to a little coffee shop that was failing. We just took over the coffee shop and turned it into Funk-N-Waffles.
Describe Funk-N-Waffles for our readers who haven't been there.
It basically feels like you're walking into someone's basement. All the furniture we picked up off the street or in a Salvation Army. Everything's really worn in, beat in, the kind of place that like you could bring a three-year-old kid to play with his toys on the floor. You order, you pay, we serve you great food. We also spin vinyl records all day. Now that I have an iMac, with thousands of my funk records on it, there's just funk playing all day.
Does Sophistafunk play there?
Hell, yeah, we play there. We used to have a weekly show a few years ago. Now we're getting a little busier, we have to play bigger clubs now, just to keep the business project moving forward, but we do still play at Funk-N-Waffles.
Do other bands come in and play?
Yeah. It is a full-service music venue. We have shows five days a week.
Does it have to be funk?
No. In fact, it's difficult to find a lot of good funk. Truth be told, I don't listen to any demos or anything anyone sends me.
So you just let people play?
Yeah, I just let people play. I don't even have a beer and wine license. I don't even have any alcohol there. I'm applying for a beer and wine license, and we should have it by the fall, but that's a new development.
So how did Guy find out about you guys?
I got a call at the restaurant, I think it was in July or something and it was like, "Hey, this is Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and we're scouting in Syracuse, and you seem like you might be a great fit for our TV show." So then they eventually picked us to be on the show. There were six in Syracuse that they shot, and we were one of the six. It took a couple days of shooting, and then on the last day Guy comes, and that's when we do the good part that you see on TV, where Guy's with the owner and they're chumming it up.
I remember telling the band members that we were actually able to work into the episode a little cameo of the band performing. The show thought it was kind of cute that the owner of the place played at his restaurant in a band, and they ended up using one of our songs to open and close our section of the episode. So the band itself was filmed for a bit of the episode, and I told the guys, "Hold on. Wait until Fieri shows up, and bring a bunch of XL T-shirts for him." So we basically just gave him a care package. And he's a busy guy -- he had like five more restaurants to do. But An hour after he left, I got a call from Guy Fieri, and he's like "I'm listening to Track 7. You guys are blowing my mind. I love this music. You know, I'd love to have you perform at my birthday party."
That's got to be the best phone call ever.
Yeah. I was freaking out. I was like okay, we're playing his birthday party.
And he called you!
That's huge, genuinely. That's the thing. A lot of people hate on Guy, but we're the proof in the pudding that he's a really genuinely real dude with, like, a great love of music and, like, a really deep heart, man -- and a great chef.