Following months of friction between restaurant developers and Hollywood Riviera residents, Rock & Brews has secured a Conditional Use Permit to open on the abandoned corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Palos Verdes Boulevard.
Construction crews are moving quickly. A green light from the City of Torrance was for them an early Christmas surprise, as permit issues were at one point threatening to derail the project. Working toward an April deadline, laborers have already flattened parts of the vacant Oliver’s Café building.
Technically situated on the Torrance side of Avenue I, the building has a Redondo Beach address and Redondo Beach neighbors. Many of them are concerned about the idea of a “beer garden,” as neighbor Amy Josefek described it, moving into their “backyard.”
Restaurant owner-operator Jon Mesko, who has partnered with El Segundo Rock & Brews founders Mike Zislis, Dave Furano and KISS legend Gene Simmons applied in October for a permit to open opposite Fatburger. In response, nearby residents and homeowners’ associations sprang into action, gathering signatures and writing letters in protest. They convinced the City of Torrance Planning Commission to deny Mesko and his partners a permit.
“Because of the name, Rock & Brews, it was a biker bar to them, with a rock ‘n roll menu,” Zislis said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. They really believed there would be live music and Gene Simmons blowing fire. That’s what they believed… With that being said, it’s truly the most family-friendly restaurant concept I’ve ever done. I’m so proud of it.”
Mesko and Zislis say they revised their business plan no less than 15 times.
Among other modifications, they reduced the dimensions of outdoor dining space by 800 square feet and jettisoned the outdoor sound system. They hired an engineer to conduct a sound study, created a children’s play area, and pledged there will be neither live nor late-night music.
Having considered the amendments to the building plan, the Torrance City Council voted unanimously on Dec. 18 to reverse the Planning Commission’s initial decision.
A number of Redondo Beach residents are disappointed with, and distressed by, the council’s final vote. Josefek says she and other residents who feel their concerns went unheeded are “absolutely” considering taking further legal action. They have hired an environmental attorney, whose advice is that the project should undergo an environmental impact evaluation.
Riviera Homeowners Association co-president Judy Brunetti thinks Rock & Brews is a “delightful” establishment, but she worries about its potential to spawn traffic in the Hollywood Riviera and drunk driving down PCH. Her primary concern, though, is that it will create noise.
Brunetti says she would have “walked away happy” if Rock & Brews management had agreed to build a roof over the open-air portion of the restaurant.
“The answer from Mr. Mesko was just that that’s not his business model,” she said.
Zislis says El Segundo residents living adjacent to Rock & Brews have not complained about noise. Indeed, some El Segundo dwellers testified at the Torrance City Council hearing in favor of Zislis and his team.
“When I went to El Segundo, I told the city what I wanted to do and at that point [Rock & Brews] was an unknown,” Zislis said. “They took a risk, but in Torrance [the restaurant] is not an unknown and not a risk. In El Segundo we’re on Main Street…here we’re on the corner of a highway, Pacific Coast Highway, and noise from that alone will drown us out.”
Josefek is not convinced, saying that her neighborhood observes lower decibel limits than other areas of Torrance, rendering it “so quiet” she can “hear the waves crashing half a mile away.”
She remains skeptical of the testimony of El Segundo residents, and describes their neighborhood as a “commercial area bounded by the 24/7 hissing of a Chevron refinery and, to the north, LAX jets.”
Josefek and some other neighbors contracted a sound engineer to review the sound study Zislis had commissioned, and they claim the resulting report raises questions in the original study.
But Zislis and Mesko believe Rock & Brews will have only a positive impact on the Hollywood Riviera. Mesko says the restaurant will aesthetically enhance a property “in drastic need of a remodel”, and quickly.
“We’re going at record pace,” he said. “We built the El Segundo [restaurant] in 80 days and we want to get this done in three months.”
Zislis forecasts an April opening, which he promises Simmons will attend.
“I’d like to be open by tax day – that’s my goal – so we can all drink a beer,” he said.
That beer will, for Zislis, mark the beginning of what he hopes will be a nationwide expansion. There will be some, however, that won’t be raising a toast in celebration.