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.”
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