What do you get when you combine musicians, a talented chef, a music-themed taco restaurant, a recording studio, and the Little Italy area of St. Louis (a.k.a. “The Hill”)? May I present, Rock Star Tacos.
What do you get when you combine musicians, a talented chef, a music-themed taco restaurant, a recording studio, and the Little Italy area of St. Louis (a.k.a. “The Hill”)? May I present, Rock Star Tacos. I recently paid a visit to RST’s new location at Gaslight Studio to sit down with the partners and get down to the brass tacks of what it takes to run a restaurant of this caliber. Upon entering, I immediately notice all of the great rock-and-roll memorabilia donning the walls. Behind the bar stands chef and musician, Wil Pelly, who has just about as much experience in kitchens as he does with a guitar (Pelly’s bands have included Neptune Crush, Goldtooth and Kingpin). He’s called Sandrina’s, Sugarfire Smokehouse and Sanctuaria home—and many other places that do not happen to start with the letter S. Sitting at the bar is Wil’s partner, Becca Schaaf. She not only can belt out a few operatic arias from Madame Butterfly but can also teach you how to play the songs on piano. Next to Becca is RST’s third partner, Tony Willingham, who daylights as the Beyond FM Podcast head honcho, serves as catering manager and handles booking at the restaurant. He’ll gladly play a tune or two for you, and even performs when the restaurant hosts open mic nights. On the menu you’ll find dishes that reflect Pelly’s influences, including birria tacos, gyro tacos and his famous Cuban tamales—a craft he honed growing up in a Cuban family. He notched valuable experience in Mexico and at a slew of notable St. Louis kitchens, as noted on his all-star résumé.
While Pelly may be an artist when it comes to taco-making, the menu has many other delicious items from which to choose. Do not sleep on the hush puppies made with Street Korn (a.k.a. Skinny Puppies), the Quesa Dios, homemade sauces or dips. And do yourself a favor: order extra rock star dust, a magical, signature seasoning.
Tell me about the concept of Rock Star Tacos, and how Rock Star Taco Shack in St. Charles got started. Becca: It started with some shots after a gig at the Chase. Wil and his bandmate were like, wouldn’t it be cool to have a rock-and-roll taco joint in New Town? That’s where we lived at the time. And six months later, we were open! Rock Star Tacos at The Gaslight Lounge location seems rather appropriate for your place. Why did you decide to branch out to St. Louis City, and how were you connected with Gaslight? Becca: Someone reached out to Wil a year and a half ago, mid-pandemic. They thought we’d be a good fit for this space, and they were right. We outgrew our space in St. Charles, and although we were only open three hours each evening, we’d sell out after a full day’s prep. It was time to make a move. To Chef Pelly, the menu has a wide array of items, including all different types of tacos, starters, sides, and some desserts to name a few. Are the recipes influenced from any specific areas, or past restaurant experiences? Wil: Past experiences and wild ideas: our specials at our location in New Town brought people from all over the metro area multiple times a week, so the most popular ones are on our menu now full time. Tamales are on there to honor my mom’s Cuban heritage. I trained in Mexico a while back, so it’s a good mix of all my experiences. Who comes up with the names for the food and the feel for the restaurant? The menu is all cleverly music-related, including the Amy Swinehouse, Shrimp Bizkit, Fry of the Tiger—even the kids’ menu is creative with the Hakuna Mataco. Is there a certain musical era or specific kind of music each of you gravitates toward? Becca: Wil and I come up with almost every title, with the help of friends and staff if we get stumped, but that doesn’t happen too often—our brains are programmed this way by now! Wil was very adamant that heavier rock be represented on our menu, but if the joke fits, we don’t hesitate. Tony is a great sounding board—we all have the same musical tastes/background. Tony: This may be one of the biggest things that pulled me into the RST family: the music-oriented humor factor. We all take our product seriously, but we love music and love to have fun. Music for me these days is all local. It’s what I do, and I have a huge passion for it.
The restaurant features some impressive rock posters, paintings, statues, and cool music-related wall decor. Who’s responsible for that, or is it just a mix of everyone’s eclectic nature? Becca: Most of it came from our house, believe it or not! Wil’s been collecting things throughout his music and culinary career: friends’ posters, bands we’ve catered [for], weird shit that screams our aesthetic. People have taken to gifting us the strange, funny and odd, because they know we’ll hang it.
Does the bar have any specialty drinks that are music-influenced?
Becca: Our entire cocktail list is music-related: from the D(r)aft Punk Margarita to the Mule’s Out for Summer or Berries Wear Boots, nothing is on our menu without a music pun.
Are there any plans you can share about collaborating with Gaslight Studio & Lounge, whether in the venue space or studio space?
Becca: We have collaborated with them since we opened in November, with live studio shows that our guests can watch and listen to. It’s been quiet live-music-wise through the cold winter months, but we are pumped about the spring. Now that we’re settled, we can focus on bringing this place to life—we’ve only been here since November. We’re also so happy to be working with Beyond FM, as a sponsor and as friends. What Tony is doing is super important, highlighting our amazing local music scene, and we have some cool things in the works.
Tony: Nothing completely set in stone, but some really great ideas are in the works.
I read Rock Star Tacos will provide the food for the Factory music venue. What are your plans for making that successful?
Becca: It’s been a whirlwind! We started catering their concerts towards the end of last year, and it snowballed fast. We made almost as much food for them last weekend as we went through here at the shop. It’s a wonderful advertising tool, but more than that, it makes sense brand-wise. We love the crew there!
With the hectic schedules surrounding different locations, having the Beyond FM Podcast, and having a life, do any of you still have time to perform, play or teach music?
Becca: Wil plays gigs from time to time, and I teach music out of our home in two pockets of time that I’m not at the shop. I think it’s really important to stay fluid—that was once my 100% profession! Strange how life takes you down different paths.
Tony: Some days it is a struggle. Beyond FM is now a 24-hour-a-day radio station playing multiple genres from all St. Louis artists. We are about to hit the three years’ mark. So, with a radio station that has an app, a website that is constantly updated with content, and scheduling interviews for live broadcasts, it is a bit of a juggle.
Do you have any music-inspired nights on your weekly calendar (i.e., acoustic night, open mic night, etc.)?
Becca: We have music trivia every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (7 p.m. for special sponsored collaborations), which I write and host myself. We will be adding more weekly events throughout the spring—the restaurant is a perfect space for small acoustic acts!
You can find yourself a few tacos deep before you know it Tuesday-Saturday 5 p.m.–10 p.m., at 4916 Shaw Ave. on the Hill (connected to the Gaslight Studio and Lounge).