It takes a special-minded individual to open and operate a successful restaurant concept, but to operate five unique and independent concepts requires something else entirely. For Manhattan-Beach-based restaurateur Mike Simms, however, running a restaurant was second nature. After all, for the third generation restaurant operator, restaurants are in his blood.
With a grandfather, father and brother all pioneers in the restaurant industry, the Simms Restaurant Group really is a family affair. Entering into the South Bay restaurant scene in 2009 with both Tin Roof Bistro, a local wine bistro, and Simmzy's, a beachside gastropub, Mike's original concepts were a complete hit in the sleepy beach community. Only two years later, Simms partnered with Michelin Starred Chef David LeFevre, opening three unique concepts over the the past 5 years: MB Post, a small plate, upscale eatery, Fishing With Dynamite, a New England-style fish shack, and just last month, The Arthur J, a modern steakhouse dedicated to the memory of his restaurateur grandfather.
Here we sit down with the restaurateur and family man to hear his keys to success in an ever-changing industry.
Foodable: When did you first start working in the restaurant industry?
Mike Simms: I grew up in the restaurant business. I was bussing tables in my early teens. My first job was washing dishes at my grandfather's restaurant. He called it pearl diving... Looking for the white plates in the dirty water!
Foodable: Your father, Tom Simms, is known for opening both Mimi's Cafe and the Kettle, and your brother, Chris, operates the Lazy Dog chains. How did this familial experience help shape your own outlook for creating and operating restaurant concepts?
MS: Every restaurant our family has built is highly personal to the founder. Mimi's was influenced by my grandfather's time in France during World War II as well as my father's trips to New Orleans. Lazy Dog was created based on our family trips to the Rocky Mountains. When I set out to start Tin Roof, I used my experience in Napa Valley to influence the creation process. I loved how food and wine were part of your everyday activities. Even the lady who owned the dry cleaner shop had her own wine label!
As for Simmzy's, I had just moved to Manhattan Beach. I fell in love with the Southern California Beach culture and at the same time my brother and I had started our families. It was the perfect opportunity to create a "man cave" focused on great food, craft beer and beach hospitality. Who knew it would be loved by our kids and our friends' families as well!
Foodable: MB Post, Fishing With Dynamite, and Arthur J all feature the culinary expertise of Chef Dave LeFevre. How did you first come to meet him and decide to work with him?
MS: Chef Dave and I were introduced 12 years ago by a mutual friend, Ashley Hepworth. Back then, she was the enologist at Joseph Phelps, now she is the winemaker. We are very proud of her. Chef Dave and I both moved to the South Bay around the same time 10 years ago. We became friends and shared restaurant war stories over cold beers at Ercules. One day, five years ago while drinking a Bud Light at Ercs, he decided he was ready to make a move and start his own restaurant. And the rest is history.
Foodable: Your restaurant concepts, primarily MB Post, but really all of them, have been responsible for revitalizing the South Bay culinary scene which has been historically a little bit out of touch with the rest of Los Angeles. Why did you choose the Beach Cities for the locations of your concepts? And have you witnessed a transformation amongst South Bay diners from the time you first opened MB Post to now, with Arthur J?
MS: I wouldn't say necessarily a transformation, but more of an evolution. There have always been great restaurants and diners down here; it really took us living here to realize that. We are only a part of the next phase of dining. There were great restaurant operators before us, great restaurateurs now, and there will be great restaurant operators after us. For now, we feel fortunate enough to be part of this landscape. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Foodable: Simmzy's seems to be the only concept (thus far) to have left the South Bay area. Will any other concepts make the trek?
MS: Nope. Chef Dave enjoys being able to walk to his restaurants. And I can't blame him! We are currently building Simmzy's along the beach and in my hometown of Burbank. I love each and every location. As Bob Meistrell taught me, "Do what you love, and love what you do!"
Foodable: Your brother and father are also involved in many of your projects. What exactly are their rolls?
MS: We are all partners in each other's restaurants. Tom is the "All Seer." He helps us plan many years in advance of our needs. My brother is five years ahead of me, so I get to learn from his mistakes!
Foodable: I'm sure the opening of Arthur J was an incredibly personal experience for your whole family. Can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of the project?
MS: The project really started with Chef Dave and the team deciding Manhattan Beach needed a serious steakhouse. We discussed the role of the traditional steakhouse and how it just wouldn't make sense in a great beach town like Manhattan Beach. After several months of sifting through images and a few trips to Palm Springs, we landed on mid-century modern design. It is a thoughtful type of decor that still lends itself to the opening airiness you want by the beach.
As we thought about individuals that influenced our lives, both Chef Dave and myself immediately thought of our grandfathers. Chef Dave's grandfather, Daddy John, and mine, Arthur J, influenced our culinary and restaurant careers. In the end, a coin flip decided it was going to be The Arthur J. How fitting for a man that loved the spice of life and a good wager!
Foodable: Any advice you would give to future restaurateurs/restaurant operators?
MS: I was fortunate enough to see Chef Dave give a commencement address to the Cordon Bleu students this past spring. His words of wisdom to those students apply to anyone in the restaurant business: "Surround yourself with great people at the top of their profession."