Why Does Gene Simmons of Kiss Want A Rock & Brews In Paia?

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Paia is normally a sleepy little North Shore town, known for attracting a rich mix of Europeans, hippies and kite surfers. It’s a mellow place, with boutiques, curio shops and restaurants that provide an eclectic selection of foods from around the world. But now, the delicate strands that bind up Paia into such a colorful community are stretching–quite possibly to the breaking point–and it’s all the fault of Kiss.

See, the front man of the old rock band Kiss is a very conservative guy named Gene Simmons, who later achieved prominence by starring in Gene Simmons Family Jewels, a reality show about his own life and by launching the men’s lifestyle publication Gene Simmons Tongue, which actually published five complete issues in 2002 before going under. Anyway, Simmons is now a partner in Rock & Brews, a chain of restaurants based in California that intends to open a new location in the old Jacques’ spot in Paia.

This has caused a certain degree of consternation on the part of those who currently live and work in Paia. “The Paia Merchants Association works to maintain the town’s vibrant commercial district by honoring the area’s unique seaside culture and history while looking toward the future,” said association executive director Rose Potter in a June 13 email to me that detailed her organization’s concerns over Rock & Brews’ plans. “Unregulated formula based businesses potentially threaten this goal and could lessen our town’s appeal.”

“Unregulated formula based business” is a very generous way to describe Rock & Brews. It’s probably not a bad place (if your idea of a great restaurant is one that offers a selection of pizzas, burgers, fried things and beers) and might even make decent neighbors in the community.

“This is not going to be a ‘cookie-cutter’ restaurant from the Mainland and forced into Paia,” developer Bill Frampton said in The Maui News’ June 11 story on the controversy. “Instead, the design has been calibrated and modified by professional Maui architects and [a] Hawaiian artist and cultural adviser to become part of the multilayered fabric of Paia.”

But the focus on what the restaurant (slated to open near the end of this year) will look like and whether it will “fit” in with other town businesses detracts from what seems to me the real problem with Rock & Brews: that so much of it’s whole “concept” is either tired or just plain bullshit.

“Our concept is all about making everyone feel like rock stars,” Simmons is quoted as saying in the April issue of Hawaii Business, which broke the story on Rock & Brews opening in Paia. The magazine then paraphrased Simmons, writing that “diners will feel like they’re backstage at a concert.”

On paper, this is a dynamite concept: imagine walking into a restaurant and immediately getting mobbed by paparazzi photographers, hipster journalists and coked-out groupies, while obsequious promoters instantly agree to all your most insane demands (like the time Van Halen wanted all the brown M&Ms removed from their backstage dressing room).

Unfortunately, Rock & Brews has different ideas of what actually transpires backstage at concerts. According to Hawaii Business, Rock & Brews’ atmosphere “will include big-screen TVs blasting classic music videos and concert footage from as far back as the ‘60s, plus posters and photos of America’s classic rock bands.”

Wow, way to kill a dream. Then again, the whole notion of teaming rock music with food named for song titles and beer has been done to death (see the global chain known as Hard Rock Cafe, which holds at least one of Simmons old guitars in its memorabilia collection). Rock & Brew’s owners admit to this with little humor and no irony on the company’s own website (Rockandbrews.com):

“Two friends at a Kiss concert enjoying craft brews had an epiphany: Nothing goes better than Rock & Brews,” states this Rock & Brews web page. “This insight may have occurred to other people before Dave Furano and Michael Zislis got together, but the two have brought their unique experiences to make their dream spot a reality in El Segundo” (for those unfamiliar with Southern California, El Segundo is a mostly aviation- and oil-industry city that borders Los Angeles International Airport).

Looking over the Rock & Brews menu online, with its chili, fries, burgers, pizzas, hot dogs and beer–many of which are named after songs–the question isn’t whether the restaurant can look like it belongs in Paia, but how long the place will be open. Paia is home to Mana Foods, which is packed like all the time with locals who want healthy, organic, vegetable-laden food. What’s more, there’s no resort anywhere near Paia, and Rock & Brews is planning on opening next door to Charley’s, which has long established itself as a top North Shore nightlife spot.

For Rock & Brews, all this bad publicity proceeding their opening may actually be good for them. Because after they open, they could face silence, which most rock bands probably agree is far worse than booing.

Photo of Gene Simmons: Alberto Cabello/Wikimedia Commons