Mark Dipiazza has been a staple and iconic member of the Long Beach community as both a restaurateur and owner/booker of one of Long Beach’s longest lasting live music venues; Dipiazza’s. What follows is my conversation with a man who is a friend to many, one of the most ethical in the music venue / booker business and one of the best chef’s around. Also included is local area musicians who have not only played the various venues Mark and Maryln have ran and owned, but also call them friends and family. We all will miss them dearly.
Mark, just for those who don’t know, what got you started in all this? What made you start the restaurateur guy with music?
– restaurateur or restaurateur with music?
I started cooking when I was 14 years old at the Colorado lagoon, I was the hamburger cook. At 15 years old I was the head chef at the Hind Quarters in Naples for 10 years. From there I went on to have a restaurant, my Dad always had a restaurant, I never worked for him. Except one day a week on Wednesdays as a Manager towards the end. I was always a cook. I took classes with my wife, she’s a chef and we decided to open a restaurant in 1984. We started on Ocean blvd we were there for 10 years and we opened a couple of other little places. Were at the bowling alley in 1995 Java Lanes. We had the coffee shop and all the food there. There was no music there at the time, it was just bowling. So we started putting bands on the lanes, outside the lanes on the concourse so people bowling could here live cover bands while they were bowling. I kept saying to them, let me take this big room which is just vacant and make it a concert venue. They said no, no, no. Then they took the smoking out of LA County, and the bowling alley went down. So, they said take the wall out and do it.
And what year was this?
Let’s see It was after I was there about a year, so 1996 maybe. So, I took the wall down, did a few shows there and as soon as I had my phone number out every band in the world was calling saying how do I get in to play. Because at that time, there was only the Foothill. The Hillside was closing, and the Foothill was the place. So we were going to compete with the Foothill because we had this big venue too, I could get about 700 people in there. After about 6 months started doing pretty well and a friend of mine knew Weezer and they were in retirement. They came out of retirement and did 3 secret shows. They did Spaceland, I was the 2nd secret show and they did one more. We had 3000 people trying to get into that show. That kind of put me on the map and then I got the Toadies and from there it just snowballed. That’s how I started. I wasn’t really into the music scene as far as doing that, booking shows, I was a chef in a fine dining restaurant. But it didn’t work in the bowling alley. When I moved from Ocean blvd, I couldn’t get my people to come to a bowling alley because they weren’t used to bowlers. Nothing against bowlers but it’s a different group.
What was the time frame of transitioning from the Java Lanes to your current location, restaurant here at Dipiazza’s ?
In 2000, I was pretty well known for packing the bowling alley. There were a couple of places locally that were doing a little music and they would ask me to come see their place and asked if I would book for them. This was the Captain’s Quarters, and I came by here and the owner asked me if I would book some nights. I looked at him and told him I think it’s too small I don’t think I can make any money but thank you. Three days later he had a personal problem and he said, “I’ll sell it to you”, so I said Great! So, I came back and he said he wanted, I think it was, almost $300,000 and I said well I only have $60, 000 and he said What?! I am very personable, so I said why don’t you carry me. He said I’m not going to carry you! Then he was like Ok, he really wanted out, give me the 60k and I will carry you the 240 thousand at 8.5%. So, I said Ok. I had a little house that we had bought in Los Altos Plaza. I paid like $159,000 in 1989 and it had doubled in value and almost had it payed off. As soon as I got this owing him on the loan, I got a 2nd mortgage on my house and paid him off after three months of me being here. He wasn’t too happy about it, but there was nothing he could do. At that point I had Java Lanes going and this going, for about 2 years. I was booking 260 bands a month. 130 over there, 130 here. I was packing that place and for me to put 200 in here was no problem. I was doing really well. Then in 2002 the bowling alley closed down; the group of Doctors that owned it just didn’t want to do it anymore. I have been here for 20 years.
The Fine Dining, the chef, the cook, this place Dipiazza’s is about the Food, so how did that all fall into place?
It’s about the food, but nobody realizes it, how the good the food is, until they try it.
When you took this over, that was part of your game plan, I’m going to get my chef on and all that?
Well I am the chef, so is my wife.
I mean that was part of what you wanted to do.
What I knew was, the Foothill, Alex’s, all those bars, clubs, doing live music, couldn’t do all ages just because there was no food. So now im the only game in town that can do all ages shows, do all the schools of rock, and incorporate all these kids who play music, to have a place, professionally, a place to play. My concept was that every year, my 20 yr olds turn to 21, and my 15yrs olds turn to 16. Every year I got busier, busier and busier because It all just snowballed because my underage bands turned 21 were able to drink. That was the concept I had, my concept was to put local bands on, give them a chance on a professional stage and sound man and teach them how to deal with these promoters that are unscrupulous, that just don’t do well, and pay them when they bring people. When you make your $200, $150, take that money buy t-shirts and sell your t-shirts. Now you got another source of income, and I try to teach them how to be little businessmen as well as musicians and not get screwed. Everyone wants to go play the Whisky and pay to play and I mean that’s good to do on your resume’ once. They start to realize I don’t want to bring all these people and make nothing. My concept was always, pay the band, let them make some money and gives them incentive to bring all the people they can. That’s how I stay busy.
Getting back to the food, your sauce for your pizza, as a paysan we all know that’s what makes it or breaks it.
I’m the only one that makes it. My Wife and I, but the last couple years she got a job with the city of Downey, a government job that’s great. I make all the sauces and dough myself.
We all know the food here is great.
That is something you provide for anybody, a musician to come here and play, whatever age, and to make some money, get paid, as it should be, but you’re also providing this killer menu.
Well, in the beginning, my wife, she created all the recipes and she was the chef and I was running the front end. When she took the other job, because she loves working with kids. She graduated from college and has a degree. She was teaching special needs kids until recently when she retired from the city of Downey school district. So I’ve been in the kitchen the last five years. One of us needs to be in there all the time, that’s how we feel.
Some people hand it off, to an established chef or someone who knows their shit, but
Nobody cares like the owner.
For anyone that doesn’t know yet, what made you decide to retire, I’ve done my time, I want to move on?
I will be 65 in March and its just time. I love the business, but I’m too hands on. I can’t delegate, its either all or none for me. I’m tired of being on my knees pulling pizza’s out of the bottom oven. I just don’t want to do it anymore. My Dad died in July and he said to me before he passed, you need to quit while you still have some life left and start traveling and enjoy yourself. We’ve never traveled and so that’s what were going to do. Were going to relax, travel and enjoy our lives.
Sounds great and Thank You so much for everything you’ve done for all of us and community. Is there anything you want to say to whoever, parting words for us?
I’ll do a Mike Watt quote, he says “Start your own band”, I’m saying Don’t start a restaurant, get an education!