Chris Santos is the culinary force behind New York restaurants Stanton Social, Vandal and Beauty & Essex, which has expanded to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He also stays busy with his own record label, Blacklight Media, is the author of Share and has served as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped. Santos talks to Filthy Lucre about how he brings a wide range of passions together.
In addition to your restaurant work, I hear you’re getting involved in the music industry.
I launched a record label a year-and-a-half ago. It’s a heavy metal record label. I have three passions in my life — cooking obviously, boxing and heavy metal. I’ve been a metalhead since I was about 12 years old. So over the years, I’ve played in bands and made a lot of friends in bands. My restaurants have become go-to spots for bands on tour. So I’ve got some A-list metal friends now. They introduced me years ago to Brian Slagel, who has one of the biggest independent record labels for 35 years now called Metal Blade Records. Metal Blade Records gave Metallica and Slayer their start. The guy’s a legend.
Him and I hang out late into the night. Sometimes drinking wine, talking, listening to music. And I kept introducing him to bands he had never heard — and he signed four of them. After the fourth one, he said we should do a label together. I said, “You’re out of your mind, I don’t have time.” But he kept asking and eventually I just relented. It’s a Metal Blade imprint, it’s my label. It’s called Blacklight Media I choose the bands we sign, I work with the bands and I’m involved in every decision. But in reality, Metal Blade, my parent company — whose parent company is Sony, so essentially, we’re a Sony label too — they do all the heavy lifting for me. I basically get to be glorified A&R person. I go out and sign the bands, I work with the bands. They send me their demos, I give them my pointers.
Who are some of the bands you’re promoting right now?
I’ve got this amazing band called Good Tiger. They’re essentially a supergroup from a bunch of different bands. A couple of the guys live in England, a couple guys live in the States. They just released their second record — their first one with us. They’re touring the United States extensively right now. They’re radio friendly hard rock, but very interesting. Amazing singer — Elliot Coleman. I have a band from New York City called Mother Feather. They’re not metal at all. They’re more like Blondie and Iggy Pop and that 70s kind of stuff. They’re very theatrical. I’ve got a band from Boston called Gozu. They’re Black Sabbath-y, real heavy. They’re on a national tour. I have a band from Norway called Fight the Fight. They’re going to be absolute rockstars. I’ve got a band from Brooklyn called Eyes of the Sun that is as heavy as it gets. They’re very good at what they do.
It sound like you have a good cross-section of acts in your roster.
I’m an equal-opportunist when it comes to my metal, but I’ve always been that way. I grew up in the 80s.
What bands did you like in the 80s?’
I grew up when Metallica was breaking and so was Motley Crue. So I fell in love with both. I love everything from that cheesy kind of radio metal to super heavy stuff.
Let’s shift gears to your restaurants. With Beauty & Essex expanding to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, how do you retain certain commonalities while keeping each one unique and special to their respective market?
With Beauty & Essex, we call it the 70/30 principle. You can walk into any Beauty & Essex and you’re going to recognize 70 percent of it. You’re going to recognize 70 percent of the dishes, 70 percent of the cocktails and 70 percent of the decor. But then there’s always 30 percent — dishes that are unique to the city, design points that are different. The pawn shops (that are in each restaurant) are all laid out differently with different selections of jewelry. So we keep it recognizable enough so it’s comforting to someone who wants the experience, but unique enough so they’re getting something new.
What do you have going on in Los Angeles right now?
Beauty & Essex in L.A. is unique and beautiful. We built this really beautiful complex — we took over a block in Hollywood. We have a Tao restaurant, a Beauty & Essex restaurant, a beautiful rooftop restaurant and nightclub called The Highlight Room, we have a nightclub called Avenue and we even have a pizzeria, Luchini. So you can go there and literally spend the whole evening there just kind of grazing from place to place to place. It’s a unique experience.