You wanted the best? You got the best! KISS frontmen Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have helmed one of the most bombastic rock bands in history, so it comes as no surprise that their restaurant efforts would be similarly grand. On May 8, they helped Rock & Brews partners Michael Zislis and Dave Furano launch a Torrance branch, which is #3 in a projected 100-link chain of rock-themed biergartens that will fan out from Southern California over the next five years. At the Torrance opening, which generated funds for the Wounded Warrior Project, Simmons and Stanley shared insights into their efforts as restaurateurs.
At what point did you know you would become restaurateurs?
Paul Stanley: Well, I’ve always been a foodie. The struggle’s always been not to be a fattie. But at the same time, I think your palate develops as you get older, and one thing you find and that becomes apparent, is that you don’t die. In other words, you don’t want to compromise your food, you don’t want to compromise the experience of the food, and what Rock & Brews allows you to do is be in an atmosphere that’s comfortable, and also bring your kids, and have food that arguably you would be very proud to serve at home. We really are about the total experience, with family, but also a place that you can go at night to have a date, get out with your friends, and again, have one of the 80+ craft beers, artisan pizzas, it’s really about the food and the atmosphere.
How involved are the two of you in the food, design and drinks at Rock & Brews?
Gene Simmons: Actually quite a bit. We, above and beyond the community aspect of it, we talk about the kinds of foods that appeal to local tastes. For instance this morning we were talking to our chef about how Hawaii is not the same thing as Los Angeles. Paul was suggesting that we choose things about the menu that make it more aligned. What were you suggesting?
Paul Stanley: Just talking about expanding the menu… We want to make sure that the experience feels great, but not strange. Not just having weird food in the name of expanding the culinary variety is ridiculous. We’re sticking with real steak… Mayo? Yeah, you can have mayo, but how about a great aioli? How about a great beer? Beer has become like wine, people now talk about the notes, they talk about how it affects your palate, about the finish. We’ve got beer, again, and we’ve got everything that celebrates the music that is classic rock. The reason it’s classic is because it’s classic. It’s classic in the way that Beethoven is classic. So, this is a way you can go with your friends, you can also bring your kids and say, “This is what I grew up with.” There have been other restaurants, obviously, that have been around for decades, and perhaps what we’re doing, is celebrating the present by acknowledging the past, as opposed to living in the past. This isn’t a museum. This isn’t a mortuary. You’re not going to find costumes and guitars and that kind of stuff. This is about today, living today and acknowledging where we all came from and what we love.
Gene Simmons: I just want to say that we don’t worry about anything else except running our race. When you’re running a race, don’t look over your shoulder to see what anybody else is doing. Just be the best that you can be. It’s the same philosophy that we have as a band, as individuals, you’ve got to do something you’re proud of, so this encompasses a lot of different things. If you look around, by the way, besides the gluten free pizzas, and the gluten free beers, and the craft beers and how many choices, how cool is it to be able to sit here – this [booth with four tap handles] is electronically designed, so that it’s its own entity – so you can decide to pour your own beers. You swipe your card and you can make it a real experience, above and beyond the food, beyond the community, you want to be able to see your kids outside, the cool people in here, surrounded by music. Food is more than food, it should be an experience, and that’s what Rock & Brews is all about.
When you’re not at Rock & Brews, are there certain people that you trust for restaurant recommendations?
Gene Simmons: Yeah, our friends. You know the best critic? Your friend who was at some place, or who just saw a good movie, and came back and says, “That’s a good movie.” I’m not going to read a newspaper to figure out, “A critic said it was a good—let’s go see it.” Who do you trust the most? Your friends.
Paul Stanley: The less time you spend listening to critics in particular, the better off you are. You know, I think that people have job security by intimidating others. You know what good food is, just like you know what good art is. Good food is what you don’t spit out. I think you can trust your own palate, and if you like something, you think that’s good. So the idea of elevating your palate veruss somebody who got a free meal, I’m not so sure about that. I think you can trust yourself and trust your neighbors. If your peers like something, there’s a good chance that you will.
When you’re on the road, how do you decide what to eat when you’re traveling?