When NBC debuted its new reality series America’s Next Great Restaurant, gaydars went off for contestant Sandy Digiovanni. And rightfully so, Sandy says. “I’m in a plaid shirt! I’m the oldest dyke on a reality TV show!”
But since the show is about finding the next fast food chain that could rival the likes of Subway and Chipotle, there hasn’t been any talk of Sandy’s sexuality, until last week when she mentioned she once had to fire her own girlfriend.
Sandy, a 54-year-old Kansas City, Miss. native, is in the running to have her restaurant idea invested in by judges Bobby Flay, Curtis Stone and Lorena Garcia and Steve Ells (founder of Chipotle). Her concept: Sinners & Saints, a menu split down the middle with healthy fare and its devilish counterpart. This means you can get a turkey burger if you’re laying off the fat, or the real deal with all the fixings if you don’t mind clogging some arteries. So far Sandy has done well in the challenges, including establishing her menu, logo, uniforms and the overall aesthetic of Sinners & Saints. But this past week, she didn’t fare well when the judges found her burgers a little undercooked. They decided to keep Sandy on, but asked that she fire her chef.
We talked with Sandy about how she fares on this week’s episode, how well she thinks she has been represented on TV and how long that relationship lasted with the girlfriend she had to fire.
AfterEllen.com: How did you get involved with the show?
Sandy Digiovanni: Well it’s funny — last year I got this random email from NBC (which I’ve never received one before or sent), that said they were having an open casting call in Kansas City. I was changing my career, I left real-estate trying to reinvent myself and I was working on buying a food truck. I thought, “Well, OK, I will just go ahead and do this because I don’t have anything else to do today,” because I really wasn’t working. Next thing I know, I was at the open casting call and they called me a month later and then I was on a plane.
AE: I know you can’t tell us too much about it because you can’t give us spoilers, but how was your time on the show? Did think that you were represented fairly?
SD: I think that I was represented fairly at times and at times I wasn’t because it is television. I think it was an experience that I will cherish all my life and an opportunity of a lifetime to do that. Especially old lesbians asked to be on reality TV, on so many weeks on a national broadcast, which is an honor. It was definitely different living with men. I haven’t lived with men in a long time, especially a straight one. I don’t think I’ve ever lived with a straight man.
SD: I know why I’m a lesbian.
AE: So can you tell us the story about having to fire your girlfriend?
SD: I owned a bar back in the early 2000s and my girlfriend wanted to go to a party on a Saturday night and I said, “Well, this is your shift!” and she said, “OK” and then just didn’t show up to work and to me that’s a no call, no show and we lived together. So I get home from the bar and she gets home from the party and I asked her, “Where were you tonight?” and she said, “I told you I wanted to go to that party.” And I said “Well, I can’t have you here anymore. You’re fired.”
AE: Oh my gosh.
SD: She thought I was kidding so she showed up for her shift on Wednesday and I said “What are you doing here? I fired you.”
SD: We still stayed together.
AE: You did?
SD: Yep. Oh yeah, you know, I said I love you with all my heart, but business is business. What’s going to happen next Saturday when there is a party? There is going to be a party every Saturday. It was ugly for a minute but we stayed together for a little while longer.
AE: So when you got the audition for the show, did you think your being gay had anything to do with it? Or was it just because of what the show was about (creating your own restaurant)?
SD: Well that was probably because of television, because you know they always have to have someone who’s the token. Nowadays they have a token gay, a token whatever.
SD: I think a little of that came into play because I never denied it in the whole interview process. Throughout all the questionnaires and stuff, I never denied it. They asked, “Are you in a relationship? Are you married?” and I said, “Yes, I have a girlfriend and I’m in a great relationship.” As a matter a fact, when I was on the show, the few times I got to call her I was being filmed and we’d tell each other we loved each other. But the whole concept, my idea, my concept was unique. It was a very unique concept, so I think it was both. I really do.