It's all too easy to riff on the title "Fast Food Mania" as "Fat Food Mania" -- no one's saying greasy sliders, fries, hot dogs and barrel-sized sodas are good for you. But as Jon Hein of Melville says of his new series, it's not all about the food.
"The show isn't, 'I can eat more Quarter Pounders than you,' says Hein, 44, who also hosts "The Fast Food Show" on Howard Stern's Sirius/XM radio channel and founded and later sold the website Jump the Shark. "It's more about celebrating the history of all this stuff." The series premieres with back-to-back episodes Sunday at 10 and 10:30 p.m. on Destination America, the channel formerly known as Planet Green.
"I fondly remember going to Roy Rogers when I was 6 and it saying, 'Happy Birthday, Jon' on the sign," says Hein, who grew up in Pittsburgh before moving to Long Island in his early teens and graduating from Half Hollow Hills High School West. "I think lots of us have had experiences like that with fast-food restaurants."
Around the country, as he traveled for the show, he says, "people wanted to talk about the food, but it was more, 'I remember when my grandmother brought me here,' or 'My first date was here.' They associate them with a certain time of their lives."
On the premiere, Hein goes behind the counter at a White Castle, visits one of the Texas-based Whataburger restaurants and camps out overnight with other Chick-fil-A fans, hoping to win a year's worth of meals. You won't find any mention, however, of unpleasantries like the controversies surrounding Chick-fil-A, involving gay rights and non-Christian employees.
Nor about nutrition. "I actually have met Morgan Spurlock" -- director of the fast-food documentary "Super Size Me" -- "and I told him I thought his movie definitely got people to think twice about how they eat and the way fast-food corporations work," Hein says. "But I also said it's very rare to find someone who eats at a fast-food place 30 days a month every meal. If you do that with any restaurant, it's going to have an effect on you."
Hein says he tries to be moderate not only for his own sake but for his wife of 20 years, Debbie, a Woodbury native, and their two teenage daughters. But he does love his fast food. "Going to those places," he says happily, "I turn into a little kid again."