Gene Simmons is the founder of one of the most iconic bands of the last half-century. He's been able to parlay his time as frontman of the rock band Kiss into myriad business adventures, including a language translation company, the Kiss Mini Golf Course in Las Vegas, and, of course, his starring role in the VH-1 reality show “Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
But there’s one business he hasn’t been in: the brew pub business. Until now.
On April 3, Simmons, along with two partners, will officially open Rock & Brews, a family restaurant and brew pub in El Segundo, Calif. Another one is set to open in the Los Angeles International Airport later this year.
“I’m a multi-headed beast, I’m blessed to be in Kiss, I have a lot of other businesses. But I’ve always wanted to do something outside the band that had to do with food and family. This is a cool way to do it.”
This is not just Simmons’ adventure. But he did inspire it. It was his partners — Michael Zislis, a restaurant and hotel entrepreneur, and rock promoter David Furano — who came up with the idea one night at — what else, a Kiss concert.
Simmons was on stage, and Furano and Zislis were in the audience. “Dave looked around the arena and said the real money to be made at a concert is in the merchandise,” recalls Zislis. “I looked around and said, ‘No, it’s in the beer.’ We kept talking, and pretty soon, we had an idea.”
That idea combines Simmons’ understanding of how to captivate an audience with Furano’s expertise as a promoter and merchandiser, along with Zislis’ many years of experience as a brewer and restaurateur.
Make no mistake, however. This is not a vanity project. It’s a real restaurant, with a menu that has been tweaked and tested for nearly a year, offering a curated selection of microbrews and international beers, including gluten-free selections, and a focus on customer service.
The rock star’s influence isn’t hard to spot, though. When patrons walk into the restaurant, they are greeted by the Wall of Rock, a timeline of rock 'n' roll that begins with Elvis, through the Beach Boys to Nirvana. Simmons worked closely with the design team to select the artists and the photos.
“Gene understands the visuals; he understands what the culture should be for music,” says Zislis.
Zislis understands the beer. He's a master brewer, who says he's able to channel his inner “beer geek" with this project. More than 40 craft beers are on the menu at any one time, “and on Wednesday nights, a different microbrewery will come in and open a keg of something special.”
Once the El Segundo location is open, Zislis will turn his attention to the next Rock & Brews, which will open at LAX. They also plan to roll out a Rock & Brews in Tokyo and Denver in 2012. Six more locations are planned for 2013. “We eventually want to get up to 50 restaurants,” says Zislis.
It's an ambitious plan, but Zislis is nothing if not confident. "They say nine out of 10 restaurants fail. But I say, maybe nine out of 10 people shouldn't be in the restaurant business."
Zislis' past successes include Manhattan Beach Brewing Company and Rock 'n Fish, along with Shade, a boutique hotel in Manhattan Beach.
But even with all that experience, sometimes it takes a rock star to cut through the red tape.
“I brought Gene into [the El Segundo] City Hall to pull the permits [when we were starting out],” recalls Zislis. “They turned those permits around a week early.”
And more recently, a new gas meter had to be installed in the restaurant. “I was told it would take five weeks; that would have delayed our opening,” says Zislis. “When I told the guy this was Gene Simmons’ restaurant, we got our new meter the next day.
“Everyone has an affection for rock 'n' roll; everyone loves the music,” says Zislis, who is a big fan of the music himself.
“I work all the time, but Gene is tireless,” says Zislis. “He likes to work on Sundays. He’ll call me up and say, ‘Let’s talk about the uniforms,’ and I’ll go to his house and we’ll talk about the uniforms. But while we’re working, he’ll pick up his bass guitar. He’ll talk about how a riff was written. We’ll come up with more ideas for the restaurant. I go home, and I’m glowing.”
“I’m fortunate to have a real rock star as a partner,” Simmons says, referring to Zislis. “He has the experience, and has enabled me to feel confident that when we’re saying something will happen, it will happen."
It's a lot like being part of a band, where everyone plays their part.
"We are one," says Simmons. "I wrote that song, by the way.”