The Rock Stars Dominating the Restaurant World
A restaurant that treats every customer like a rock star—that is the vision of Rock & Brews, a casual-dining eatery that features music videos from classic rock bands and music-themed dishes. But unlike other pop culture chains, Rock & Brews is a food-first concept with music embedded in its DNA.
The brand is co-owned by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, cofounders of the legendary rock band KISS. Additionally, with leadership from fellow co-owners Michael Zislis, a brewmaster and restaurateur with more than 20 years of industry experience, and brothers Dave and Dell Furano, long-time concert industry and merchandising pros, the Rock & Brews concept was staged for success.
“There is an overall culture with Rock & Brews—it’s classic rock,” Simmons says. “You’re surrounded by music of all the bands you love, like Springsteen and Hendrix and KISS, and you’ve got videos playing the entire time and cool people serving you and making you feel special.”
At each store, fans can enjoy music videos and a menu that features dishes named after popular songs, like Purple Rain Drops (French doughnuts filled with chocolate and named for Prince’s iconic classic) or Paint It Blackened Salmon Caesar Salad, after the No. 1 hit by the Rolling Stones. But for all its nods to the rock pantheon, Rock & Brews avoids the museum-like vibe of many theme restaurants by opting for simple photographs and custom music-themed décor.
“We’re not funereal in the sense that we have dead musicians’ socks hanging on the wall,” Stanley says. “It’s about being in an environment that acknowledges and identifies with the music that we’ve all loved. And, not surprisingly, people of other generations who didn’t grow up with classic rock also identify with it.”
Named an Entrepreneur Top 500 New Franchise for 2017, Rock & Brews has generated tremendous customer and media attention.
Rock & Brews opened its first store in El Segundo, California, in 2012. Since then, it has grown to 21 locations, including in airports and stadiums, and two locations in Mexico. Additionally, the brand began expanding into the world of resorts and casinos this year when it opened in the San Manuel Casino in California. Recently, the chain also announced that it would develop an entire resort, the Rock & Brews Casino Resort, set to open in 2018 in Braman, Oklahoma. This location will be operated in partnership with the Kaw Nation and Kaw Gaming Inc.
With its rapid growth, the chain is already well on the way to its goal of “world domination,” Stanley quips. Zislis says that the brand intends to open another 10 locations next year, possibly 16 the following year, and Simmons says Canada and Mexico are “about to open up big and wide.”
Every Rock & Brews location has some latitude to explore regional décor and fare that will appeal to consumers in that market. In many cases, franchisees submit dishes based on local ingredients and flavors that give each store its own unique flair.
“Everyone who is a multi-unit [owner] usually hires a chef,” Zislis says. “In Albuquerque, the menu has Green Hash Chili Burgers, and you go to Florida and you have different barbecue sauces and different fish. They do catfish. If I put catfish on the menu in California, people wouldn’t know what it was.”
This latitude to create location-specific offerings helps each menu stand out and takes regional flavor preferences into consideration, such as offering spicier fare in Southern states. Additionally, the interior design of each store features both the rock theme and local inspiration, such as the Hawaii store’s whaling village atmosphere. Zislis believes this freedom to explore within the concept is crucial to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle the brand embodies.
“I don’t want to be the corporate guy that holds you to the corporate standard,” Zislis says. “I always want to be rock ‘n’ roll. I hate being corporate. I hate rules. Rock ‘n’ roll is about no rules.”
Rock music and all-inclusive entertainment are core pillars of the restaurant’s image, but food-first brand is committed to high-quality American comfort cuisine and excellent service.
Though the rock stars may be accustomed to receiving VIP treatment, in their various business ventures both Simmons and Stanley have learned that success is only achievable when the people buying the product, whether it’s albums and concert tickets or burgers and beers, feel like they matter.
“I tend to work from something that I call the ‘assumption of commonality,’ which means that most people are very much the same,” Stanley says. “If you address your needs, you’ll be addressing other people’s needs.”
Stanley noticed that when he took his family out for dinner, there weren’t many options that would cater to both children and adults, and he and the Rock & Brews team saw the opportunity for a concept that had a mission to be everything to everyone. In particular, they set out to create a restaurant environment that was child-friendly and pet-friendly.
“And when you add to that a great staff, you wind up with a situation where people don’t look to this as a one-time or a once-in-a-while meal, it becomes a lifestyle,” Stanley says.
By focusing on a restaurant-first approach and sourcing local produce, the brand stays true to its foodie roots. Customers find diverse menu choices from craft burgers and wings to salads and gluten-free and vegetarian options.
Another defining element in the Rock & Brews brand is its beverage selection. The menu features many local beers at each store, usually numbering between 50 and 100 depending on the location.
“There are no corners being cut,” Stanley says. “This is first and foremost a restaurant, and that’s what I’m proud of. Our fish tacos and pizzas are phenomenal. Our burgers are ridiculous. When we talk about sweet potato fries, we aren’t talking about orange fries. We have real sweet potatoes, and they taste like it. Everything is first-rate.”
Personally, he’s partial to the Demon Burger. A spicy dish inspired by the star’s stage personality, also called The Demon. “It’s hot and spicy,” Simmons says. “It tastes good, and is about as much fun as you can have with your pants on.”