2.21.2013

five questions with: simms restaurant group's mike simms.

Do I have a treat for you today! If you are local to the South Bay, you have no doubt enjoyed a meal (or two) at Simmzy's, Tin Roof Bistro (TRB) or the MB Post. Owned by the Simms Restaurant Group, the trio have defined Manhattan Beach's culinary scene, and there's more on the way. Simmzy's opened a Long Beach location and Manhattan Beach is expecting another restaurant from The Post's Chef David LeFevre later this year.
Here's why we love the Simms Group: not only do they do food, wine, beer and cocktails extraordinarily well and are all about local farm fresh foods (and all that really good stuff), they are inspiring. They each, in their own way, bring together really good people - staff, servers and guests included - and your meal is more of an experience shared. Each restaurant is perfectly crafted, from the ground up, from the countertops to the silverware to the restrooms (seriously), including all the things we love, like chalkboard menus, clothespins, grain sack-like napkins and mason jars.

I spent an afternoon with our friend and restaurant group owner Mike Simms, and picked his brain about all things food and entertaining, from the new brussel sprout to his favorite pub grub. We chatted over a pint of Bavik, a Belgian style pilsner, and I got to taste a few items on Chef Anne Conness' new TRB menu, which just launched last week. It was a perfect little afternoon, and I'm so excited to share the highlights with you, in five-ish questions.
*plus a flawlessly-executed photo bomb by our favorite TRB bartender Andy.
one: take us back to the beginning - how did you land in the restaurant business?
It's in the family. My grandfather started out managing the commissary at Paramount Studios in the 50s. A true entrepreneur, he went out, borrowed some money and opened his first coffee shop in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s, and eventually owned several. My dad followed in his footsteps after a detour as an aeronautical pilot, and started and ran Mimi's Cafe until he sold it in 2005 and then helped my brother, Chris, and I join the family business. 

Chris and I are partners, and together, we've brewed beer, and we've opened several restaurants. Chris opened the first Lazy Dog Cafe in 2003, and owns and runs all 11 locations. Four years after the first Lazy Dog, our intention was to open Tin Roof Bistro, but due to several delays, Simmzy's ended up opening first. It's a very serendipitous story about how the convergence of craft beer, wine and good food that we call 'gourmet pub grub' made it to Manhattan Beach Blvd. You can read all about here.

Prior to opening Simmzy's, I spent four years in the Napa Valley, managing Tra Vigne, where I learned true scratch cooking and made a lot of good friends who are passionate about the wine and food community, and we feature several of their home-grown foods and beverages at each of our restaurants. 

two: you employ some of the best, friendliest people - and most amazing chefs - in the service industry... how do you do it?
We get up in the morning to improve the lives of the people around us, and that starts with opening really great, craveable restaurants that are all very hand-crafted, while employing some really good people. At Simmzy's and Tin Roof, I work with Chef Anne, who drives the culinary and beverage bus and Chef David runs the show at the MB Post. We also have a really diligent hiring and interview process, and we look for people who have all those intangible qualities that mom teaches, like respect, hard work and self-awareness. 
{from the new TRB menu: shrimpcake, served with the town's best fries}
three: tell us a bit about the new menu, and what we can expect to see this Spring at Tin Roof.
For a bistro restaurant, there are staples we will always offer, so at Tin Roof, we maintain a consistency of certain items, like salmon and a whitefish, a couple of braised items, a couple of pastas and a couple of beef items. We do a big menu change every two-to-three months, plus small menu changes as needed. We take a look at what's selling, what's not and we do a good amount of R&D - research, dining out, food tasting (the hard stuff!) and cookbook and magazine reading - a lot of which is left to Chef Anne. 

For this season, we made a major change and removed our traditional French onion soup that has been here since day one and replaced it with a lighter, deeper homemade chicken noodle soup with spaetzle. We want this to be the best chicken noodle soup you've ever had (editor's note: I can verify that it is!).  We also added a new gyro-style lamb pizza with tzatziki, a new baby kale, pear and avocado salad - kale is the new brussel sprout, by the way - and a new Saturday night feature: Fish en Papillote, or  poached fish in parchment paper.
four: what is your favorite thing to eat at your own restaurant?
It of course changes from restaurant to restaurant, but if I'm at Tin Roof, anything pizza. I love a wood burned crust, and I think it's because of the process; the combination of moist dough cooked on high, high heat. If I'm at Simmzy's, I go for a burger and wings and if I'm at the Post, whatever Chef David is cooking. 
{my new favorite side: roasted cauliflower with pickled shallots}
five: what do you love most about your job?
This has certainly changed over the last four years, but now what I love most is seeing people achieve their dreams - giving our teammates the tools to become general managers for the first time, or helping establish our new beverage program or watching one of our servers buy his first house. Helping people personally accomplish their goals is why I do what I do. That, and the R&D ain't bad.

I have to add a bonus question: what's it like to be a dinner guest at the Simms' house and where do you find inspiration?
I find Epicurious to be a great recipe resource, and we practice quality over quantity, so we don't entertain a ton, but when we do, we do it right and for special occasions. For me, entertaining is an opportunity to test the limits of my own culinary talents. For New Year's, I cooked an entire feast with a bunch of tools that I was treated to for Christmas, including a sous vide immersion circulator - basically, a water bath - and did everything from lobster tails to braised short ribs on a horseradish and celery root puree.

Mike, thank you so much for spending time with us and for the joy you bring our community through your restaurants.

You can visit each Simms restaurant online here. While you're at it, make a reservation or stop in at Simmzy's, if you're in the neighborhood. There's a good chance you'll find us by the bar.

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1 comment:

Karen said...

I will have to make my way to Manhattan Beach and try one of these places. Yummy, they sound like they have delicious eats and great service, who could ask for anything more. Thanks, Alison.
Karen