After four decades of delighting audiences, garnering accolades and breaking barriers in the entertainment industry, legendary performer George Lopez is making a name for himself in the food and beverage world. The venue for Lopez‘s new passion project, The Brews Hall, is a strikingly modern, multifaceted food hall in scenic Torrance, which officially opened its doors in November 2019. Though the sleek new venue contains a handful of other restaurants (including a burger joint sponsored by sports commentator Colin Cowherd), its centerpiece belongs to Lopez. Diners in the mood for Mexican cuisine can sate their cravings at George Lopez‘s Chingon Kitchen, a counter-top eatery which serves south-of-the-border fare with a twist, while beer-lovers might quench their thirst at George Lopez Brewing Co., a Latin-inspired brewery with one-of-a-kind offerings.
For the towering comedic talent who altered the television landscape with “George Lopez,” his autobiographical sitcom which aired from 2002-07 on ABC, everything begins and ends with family—even if those beginnings weren’t easy. “I think that if you look at the definition of comedy, it’s not when things go right; it’s when they go wrong,” says Lopez. “I was raised by my grandmother (Benita)…the whole attitude—the ‘Why are you crying?’ vibe, ‘Who do think you are?’—that was from her. Everything came with a disclaimer… If (I was) eating soup and didn’t have a spoon, I’d ask for one, and she would say ‘Okay, that’s your Christmas present.’ She was my muse.” George Lopez Brewing
Benita was also an inspiration in the kitchen; her influence sparked Lopez‘s culinary ambitions. “In stand-up, I would talk about my grandmother keeping her salsa in a mayo jar with no lid…that stuck with people, so I did this as an opportunity to honor her because she was also a really good cook.” While performing at the San Manuel Casino in Highland two years ago, Lopez received an opportunity to realize these edible imaginings when a representative of the venue reached out and asked if he would have any interest in opening a Mexican restaurant in their space. Lopez swiftly agreed, and Chingon Kitchen was born.
“I started talking about the menu right away,” recalls Lopez. “The tortillas, the taquitos, the carne asada… It was an easy fit.” Having found his niche, Lopez linked up with Michael Zislis, an entrepreneur and restaurateur, whose Zislis Group owns properties like Shade Hotels and The Strand House. Zislis was set on expansion, and after considering a number of other areas, the pair settled on Torrance as the site of the ambitious experiment. Lopez says, “The city of Torrance has been great… This area is perfect for us. There’s parking, it’s easy to find and it’s very impressive what they’ve done with this space.”
The space Lopez refers to is the former site of a Goodyear tire shop, which has been converted into a sprawling dining space that houses four eateries and two breweries. Outside stands a looming, 27-foot silo branded with the logo of Zislis’s Buzzrock Brewing Co. Inside, you’ll find rows of brass tanks (fermenting vessels), all filled with sudsy pilsners and stouts. Additionally, there’s a charming outdoor patio and a row of games to entertain younger visitors.
It is precisely this broad-scale appeal that Lopez feels will set Brews Hall apart in the area. “There’s four food options here and a full bar…so if you come with kids, (everyone) can get what they want. As a comedian, I entertain a Latino audience with something that connects to them, but also something that’s understood by everyone,” explains Lopez. Lopez set to realize this approach while selecting the food that would be served at Chingon Kitchen. The menu boasts traditional staples like tacos and burritos, as well as out-of-the-box offerings like artisan churros in cinnamon sugar and hand-hacked guacamole paired with fresh homemade chips from the comal. Chingon also provides for those with dietary restrictions through options like cauliflower tortillas and meat-free burritos. Lopezalso insisted on authentic touches, such as a bucket of Jarritos Mexican sodas and a spiked horchata drink, which infuses the milky treat with rum.
Speaking of alcohol, the George Lopez Brewing Co. endeavors to realize an authentic, Mexican-inspired vision, pushing the flavor palate of their beer to new levels. This includes a grapefruit and lime IPA, an orange cream ale, a Horchata stout, a masa-inspired beer and, per Lopez, “a beer that tastes like the mix of El Presidente, Sprite and Brandy…which is a big drink in Mexico.”
When asked about his favorite of all the choices offered at his Brews Hall outlets, Lopez takes a moment to consider, then returns with a surprising answer: “Probably the elote—corn with mayonnaise.” The classic snack, most often doled out by street vendors, pairs grilled corn on the cob with the aforementioned topping, cayenne and chili powder, as well as a sprinkling of Cotija cheese. “When I was young, I saw people selling [elote] in the park, and I thought it was weird…Then, one day, I had one, and it was amazing. I want to bring that to the people here.”
The above notion sums up the motivation behind Lopez‘s art, whether it’s food or comedy: a wish to expose the masses to his cultural touchstones in way that never rings false or contrived. “I once saw a [stand-up comedian] going on stage, and he talked about his girlfriend. After the show I said, ‘I didn’t know you had a girlfriend.’ He said, ‘I don’t. I just wrote material about it.’ That really rang false to me, and I never wanted to do that. My [work] became my own.” And so it has been since 1979, when a nervous 18-year-old from Mission Hills attended his first open mic. Now, 40 years later, Lopez is gearing up yet again for a brand new comedy special—his first since 2017’s “The Wall.” “All of my specials have a theme,” he remarks. “The last one was political, but this one is more about minding your own business. Today we see…people calling the cops on kids selling water in the park or using the bathroom in Starbucks. We don’t need to be policing other people. It’s also about where we are as a country…and a bit about mortality.”
Sitting confidently amidst the looming Brews Hall floorspace that he was instrumental in bringing to life, it seems hard to fathom that Lopez would be questioning mortality. He appears to be a creator at the top of his game, expanding his empire into a whole new sphere of influence. But, though his love for comedy hasn’t dwindled, Lopezsays, “Sure, I see the end [of performing]. I do see the light at the end of the tunnel at some point. But to still be around and enjoy it is a beautiful thing.” Still, Lopez grows excited when talking about his upcoming film projects, lighting up at the mention of No Man’s Land, a modern Western in which he plays a driven Texas Ranger pursuing a young, white border patrol vigilante who shoots a Mexican immigrant before fleeing to Mexico.
Despite a wellspring of opportunities ahead in the world of Hollywood, Lopez ultimately reserves his boldest future plans for Chingon Kitchen and George Lopez Brewing Co., outlets for which the cards read one thing: expansion. “This…is something I want to see grow. I’m looking to make it bigger,” states Lopez. “Hey, maybe investors can even take it out to airports next.” And, even though he’s usually hilarious, it doesn’t appear that the great comedian is joking this time.