By Simone Goldstone | Soundcheck Columnist
Beatles figurines line the shelves above piping hot cheese and spinach pinwheels. A mural with everything from an infamous Shae Stadium concert ticket to the famous psychedelic Beatles portraits taken by Richard Avedon stare down at us from the wall. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Woodstock” plays from the speakers, and Bob Dylan quotes line the napkin boxes on the tables.
This might just be the coolest place for pizza pie in all of Southern California.
Peace, Love, and Pizza seems to be the motto of the Beatle’s inspired pizza parlor known as Sgt. Pepperoni’s. Established in 1976, the much-loved groovy hangout in Newport Beach faced financial jeopardy as the years went on. One 1990s icon, Sugar Ray’s drummer and songwriter Stan Frazier, who grew up in Newport and still lives there, stepped up to the plate. Now a co-owner of the expanding franchise, Stan saved the yellow submarine homage from sinking.
Sitting outside on the sunny patio of the pizzeria’s new Irvine location, Stan filled us in on whisking music and cooking together, along with a few stories from his rock heyday for some extra flavor.
Cooking may not fit the usual rockstar lifestyle bill, but it’s a passion Stan excels at. Having won Jamie Oliver’s TV show “Chef Race,” he’d been cooking for his band, Sugar Ray, while on tour for years.
With 22 hours to kill before a show, he’d look for ingredients, light some candles, and have appetizers waiting for his bandmates.
“It’s how we could eat right on the road,” he laughs.
While Stan never looked at performing as much pressure (except for opening for the Rolling Stones) he certainly felt the heat as a contestant on “Chef Race.” Despite the nerves, Stan won first place. He impressed the judges at the show’s last challenge with a pop-up menu he named Squash Blossom (after his mom’s nickname for him). Stan served up a winning meal of lamb, gazpacho with parsley puree, ceviche, and what Todd English dubbed “gnarly bread pudding—some of the best I’ve had.”
Perhaps the luckiest are Stan’s friends and family, who know to find an excuse to visit when they smell his pizza oven heating up. This familial attitude is the center of Sgt. Pepperoni’s. Even Stan’s daughter works at the pizzeria’s Newport location.
“My favourite things to cook are pasta, fresh fish, and anything from Tuscany,” Stan says, “I’d have loved to cook with Anthony Bourdain, he just gets it. But I enjoy going to Eataly. Cooking and making music aren’t different. It’s all art. You’re creating something. You’re taking something that wasn’t there and making it there now.”
Stan wrote some of the biggest and most nostalgic hits of the 90s. Growing up in Newport Beach, Stan had a band that had already put out a compilation record by the 8th grade. The group was approached in high school by this “bratty jock, who wanted to be in the band,” Stan reflects, “He couldn’t sing, but we told him he didn’t need to sing, since we were more nu-metal at the time.”
That band became Sugar Ray. Despite their first album on Atlantic Records failing to sell, the group toured Europe. When the band arrived back in New York, Atlantic Records told them they’d need to do everything they could to stay in the game. Rehearsing in the middle of a harsh, East Coast winter, in a 15th floor studio, their singer, Mark, walked out.
“I just took control. I grabbed the microphone and wrote ‘Fly,’” Stan says on writing his hit song. Contrary to its happy melody, the song is about wishing he could just fly away from New York, from his troubles and fears. The song mentions his mother, who had passed away by that time. “My mom played the ukulele and she even got a vocal scholarship. I think I got, like, 1 percent of her talent,” he remembers fondly.
“The minute we brought it (“Fly”) to the producer, they said ‘this is a hit.’ Once the song got airplay, we went from playing cotton candy stage at Warped Tour – the stage that nobody goes to – to playing the main stage overnight. It was unreal.”
Stan’s other hit song, “Every Morning,” also came together out of the blue. The melody just appearing in his head.
“It was about this girl I was dating. She was just insecure and thought I was being unfaithful, which I wasn’t, of course, but I was out a lot on tour, so I was gone a lot of the time. I had just used the royalty money from ‘Fly’ to buy a real, four post bed. Before then, I only slept on a futon, except for my childhood bed,” he laughs.
Stan remembers pulling out of the parking space when the song came to him.
“I ran back into the studio to record it. The part about the four-post bed is that she’s innocent and perfect waiting for me at home, hanging her halo on the bedpost, while I’m out doing whatever she thinks I’m doing away from her.”
“The song ‘Someday’ is about growing old with the one you’re with, and it’s still getting played,” Stan smiles.
It’s true that nostalgia for Sugar Ray’s music hasn’t left. Even Arby’s is using “Fly” in their latest commercial.
So how did Stan find his way into co-owning a pizza franchise?
“Pizza just speaks to me,” said Stan, reflecting on his childhood memories at the original Sargent Pepperoni’s. “I had my first kiss there. I remember sitting in this cut-out oval watching my brother play pinball. And pizza is my favorite food, I remember all the pizza parties. It was so iconic; I couldn’t just let it die out.”
In true retro spirit, a Pacman machine sits by the window, cheerily chomping away just like the pizza-eating patrons.
“It’s like having children. I thought one was enough, but now we have three,” Stan jokes about the newest location that just opened near UC Irvine’s campus. The other location is in Aliso Viejo.
Along with a rotating menu of a new specialty pizza every two months, the philanthropic heart of the restaurants captures the establishment’s attitude. Celebrating a charity called Julian’s Lego Corner, all proceeds from this month’s specialty cheeseburger pizza are donated to Children’s Hospital of Orange County. In the future, Stan will take his pizza truck to the hospital and provide cheesy, delicious meals to children and health care workers, encourage Lego donations for patients, and ask local business to match their donation.
It makes perfect sense when I ask which Beatle is Stan’s favorite: George Harrison, who is known for both his music and fundraising efforts for Bangladesh.
Stan’s current band, The Side Deal (with members of Train and the PawnShop kings), is also known for playing charity concerts.
I’m glad to see Orange County is still spreading the spirit of peace and love—or should I say Peace and Pizza.
Stan hopes to experiment with fellow Sgt. Pepperoni partner, Andy Hong (whose company has managed Sublime and the Dirty Heads), on new pizza flavors like Kimchi.
“That’s the beauty of partnership,” Stan says, who continues to create through the mashup of music and food.
Visit https://thesidedeal.com for more information on Stan Frazier and The Side Deal.