Munchy Boys Eat Their Way Through 2020Dec 28, 2020 08:47AM ● By Daisy Hutzell Rodman
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
While most people learned new recipes and ate at home during the majority of 2020, two filmmakers in Omaha ate out as often as ever.
Longtime friends Tony Bonacci and Aaron Gum frequently eat at restaurants. Gum, in fact, doesn’t use his stove for cooking, but rather as a temporary resting place for pieces and parts for his collection of arcade and pinball machines.
“Tony used to call me up and say ‘hey want to go munch?’” Gum said. The bachelor without a stove was always down to chow.
The tech-minded individuals created a trendy media form out of their hobby last year upon suggestion from a guy at the gym where Bonacci exercises. They had been toying around with the idea of a podcast, but in February 2020, the pair decided to go for it.
Their first stop was El Rancho. They tested the waters at a favorite restaurant where they knew the food was good, eating in the restaurant with no idea what was about to happen worldwide.
“That was a different world,” Bonacci said. “That’s the interesting part of it. We started it with this idea of going to eat somewhere and then go back to Aaron’s and recording.”
Their media experience comes in handy, as the two created zany, humorous characters and, from the first episode, talk about everything from poblanos and burritos to polar bears on-air. They admitted that the podcast was going to evolve as they gained experience, but they did not expect it to evolve drastically three weeks later.
“Our last actual episode dining in a restaurant was at Flavors, and that was a buffet,” Gum said. The arcade collector wasn’t watching the news religiously, but he could tell things were going south fast, as he was being told his orders for parts from China were delayed or out-of-stock. After the third show, he told Bonacci they should go to Tokyo Sushi quickly and get it in the can before the restaurant closed, but they second-guessed themselves and never went.
The Munchy Boys stood six feet apart in a line on March 17 reading a sign that they could not refill their soda cups as they waited for takeout from Block 16. They took the food back to Gum’s in-home studio and, as Bonacci said, “munched on the mike.”
Between bites of croque monsieur and vegan burritos, Gum and Bonacci’s podcast evolved further. By episode seven, the pair traveled to Tasty Pizza separately and recorded a video episode, complete with visuals of their food and pop culture references.
The entire month of April, the duo feasted on video. They named their final bite the “king bite,” putting way too much food into their mouths in order to clean their plates. They ate at the Dire Lion food truck, where they were able to nosh on fish-and-chips and bacon butty sandwiches from their vehicles and Pim’s Thai Catering & Takeout sponsored a show.
Friends and fans began to call in to the show on an occasional basis, waxing philosophical with Bonacci and Gum about everything from movies to music to food. The April video episodes were some of their most popular to date, but by May, the format switched again.
Perhaps it was watching episode 10 as the friends slopped barbecue sauce and licked their fingers, but more likely it was the time commitment of creating and editing videos for fun when they do this for a living. Their 12th episode was broadcast via Zoom, and they continued that for several episodes.
They said there have been a couple of places that they felt uncomfortable visiting, but it wasn’t so much about food safety as having to touch things like pens to sign receipts. While they are serious about making sure safety and social distancing is a part of their show, they are more laid back about the podcasts.
Their theme worked beautifully in this topsy-turvy year.
“[My girlfriend and I] joke about how there’s food all the time now,” Bonacci said.
As the format changed, a few things stayed consistent, in part thanks to Bonacci’s research.
“I listen to a few podcasts,” Bonacci said. “So I knew we needed an intro, we needed a song. Aaron did that cool intro video. We did a synth segment as a regular thing. We can definitely do more formatting and planning.”
Bonacci’s quirky sense of humor is combined with Gum’s love of synthesizers to create new music for each episode.
Meanwhile, 2020 happened. Murder hornets made their way to the United States, filmmaker Harvey Weinstein was convicted, the Dow suffered its single worst point-drop in a day, and police-involved killings of Black people sparked protests around the nation. The Munchy Boys kept breaking bread, although they took a season break between May 14 and June 12.
“A lot has changed in our overall subconscious When all the protests were happening, it didn’t make sense for us to do a fun show when the city was hurting,” Gum said. “Then when we came back, we went to Okra and we asked Dereck Higgins to join us. I feel like we were going to do more Black-owned local businesses. Our intentions were good, but we were probably just lazy.”
“I applaud them for being able to think on their feet and figure out how to keep going with their podcast. They are lighthearted, zany, and really plugged into pop culture,” said Higgins, a musician and friend of the guys. “I think it’s great.”
And while the two used to haunt their favorites, they have branched out and found new places during this time when most people hunkered down and ate at home. In late November, the boys carried out carbs from Orsi’s Pizza, a restaurant never before patronized by Omaha area-native Gum, who ultimately said he liked it.
Their fan base, while not large, has been consistent.
“We just assume it’s not that many [people who listen],” Bonacci said. “When we were at Tim Maides’ popup, a lot of people came up and were like ‘Oh are you doing a Munchy Boys podcast?’ That was kind of crazy.”
“Honestly, it’s just fun to listen to him and Tony hanging out and feeling like I can be there when I can’t,” said friend and fan Chelsea Balzer. “I love their rapport and being able to hear people having just a normal interaction. It makes me feel like I am there. I love that they do whatever they want...It’s so them.”
And though 2021 is a new year with new promise, one thing is certain. Bonacci and Gum will continue their chow down through O town.
Because, as Bonacci said, “Munchy boys gotta munch.”
Visit themunchyboys.libsyn.com to listen to the podcasts.
This article was printed in the January/February 2021 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.