Nowhere in San Diego's popular restaurant and craft bar, Kindred, will you find the word "vegan." "We're focused on the hospitality of taking care of people, not the activist approach based in guilt or fear," says founder Kory Stetina. The entire Kindred experience, from assortments of savory snacks to well-crafted cocktails, as Stetina puts it, "just happens to be vegan." The vibe of this French-styled eatery is something that satiates Revolver's palate as much as the cuisine — a social scene of culinary pleasures serenaded by the soothing sounds of psych metal. Enjoy your stay while listening to tracks from Pallbearer, the Sword, Converge — as soon as the doors open, until the barkeep has put away his bitters for the night, it's all metal, all the time. From the restaurant's twisted toile de joy walls, from which a massive four-eyed wolf sculpture gazes over its patrons, to the demonic feline adorned lavatories — where you can listen to Sleep's monstrous stoner-rock ode "Dopesmoker" while taking a piss — every detail of the Kindred experience is unforgettable.
Everything about Stetina's success as restaurateur is unorthodox. He started out as a career healthcare entrepreneur with a fetish for hardcore music and an insatiable taste for well-crafted cuisine and brew. In an effort to pursue his passions, Stetina started a pop- up concept in 2011 called LOVELIKEBEER (Yes, a nod to Killing Joke's "Love Like Blood"). It was an opportunity to showcase vegan food paired with craft beer — something that was void at the time. The reception was beyond what Stetina had imagined. "On a typically slow Wednesday night, more than 400 people rallied to try out what we were doing and we ran out of food by 9:30 p.m.," says Stetina. "In some cases, we were bringing restaurants some of their busiest nights. With our success, I developed a real sense of responsibility to the guests that were following us and coming to our events. It just didn't feel right to try to express myself or host this experience through all these other restaurants. That's when the concept for Kindred was born."
Upon invitation by Stetina, Revolver made the trek to San Diego's tree-lined, walkable South Park neighborhood. Since the Nineties, South Park has been gaining repute for its forward-thinking storefronts and eateries, making it a perfect nesting place for a death-metal vegan restaurant where plant-based fare and deliciously crafted cocktails are served in a Victorian-esque meets gothic fairy tale setting. "From afar it feels very formal, beautiful and classic," explains Stetina. "But at the same time, we've embedded these little nods to hardcore, metal and skateboarding cultures within the design." The wallpaper, for example, features satanic versions of Rainbrow Brite shitting a rainbow. "The restaurant is full of subtleties that, when you get up close, make you realize, 'these are my people.'"
Kindred's chef-driven menu is as dazzling as it is delicious, imparting a gourmet culinary sensibility to vegan cuisine. Their beet risotto with fried scallop potatoes and scallion sour cream is an artistic savory masterpiece. And their beer batter palm tacos, made with seaweed salad, chile de arbol crème and jicama salsa on corn tortillas, rival the best tacos in San Diego. Washed down with a refreshing cocktail from a long list of fantastical libations (like the Radical Sabbatical), Stetina left no stone unturned when he developed his concepts for Kindred.
Revolver sat down with Stetina, over several courses of their finest fare, paired with delicious cocktails (our favorite was the "Descent Into Madness", Kindred's twist on a classic Vieux Carré), to discuss his roots in metal and how a focus on hospitality, great drinks, tasty dishes and a unique vibe (rather than activism) has made Kindred a community mainstay, and destination restaurant, in San Diego.
HOW DID BEING A HARDCORE MUSIC FAN LEAD YOU TO CREATING KINDRED?
KORY STETINA Some of the first music I ever got into was Eighties thrash metal like Slayer and the early Metallica records. Then, I gravitated toward more punk. But it wasn't until I heard Bad Brains when it all clicked for me. To me, Bad Brains incorporated elements of my favorite parts of metal, but with the speed and ferocity of punk. Ultimately, it was the hardcore movement that I related to, where all that energy and angst becomes fuel for intension and, in some cases, activism — it was a complete rejection of the nihilism that was prevalent in the punk scene. Through all of this, I learned about vegetarianism. I went full vegetarian when I was 15, and then vegan when I was 22. Now, 16 years later, it's still a really important part of who I am. Obviously, a lot of that is behind Kindred as a concept — acknowledging that vegetarianism has a place in a more rebellious punk and hardcore culture.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PLAY EXCLUSIVELY METAL IN THIS FRENCH-VICTORIAN STYLED BRASSERIE?
Kindred is an homage to heavy music and its surrounding culture. When we envisioned creating a space that could flirt with that rebellious energy but maintain a classy-styled atmosphere — something between beautiful cocktail party and evil lair — psych metal just seemed to fit into that criteria, so it became the music we embraced for the space. We play a lot of stoner rock, psych metal and doom. Who doesn't love Black Sabbath and basically all of its children that have spawned since their emergence? A lot the music is very melodic and goes under the radar with people who are unfamiliar. But for the people who are into heavy-music culture — this is their place.
HOW DOES A VEGAN RESTAURANT NOT USE THE WORD "VEGAN" ANYWHERE IN THE RESTAURANT OR IT'S MARKETING?
I've come to learn that an activist approach that's based in guilt or fear will only be effective with a very small percentage of the population. In some cases, that activist pressure turns people off. People are more open-minded to trying vegan food when that pressure for lifestyle change gets removed from it. So the way I interpreted that was to remove the subtle pressure that might be associated with activism, and make Kindred about the experience and the experience alone. Of course, we trust that we'll inspire people at the right time to reflect on the fact that they came here and had an amazing vegan meal. But at the same time, we are focused on the hospitality of taking care of people.
YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN DOING A REGULAR-BUT-PRIVATE POP-UP BAR AT PSYCHO LAS VEGAS. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
It's an unofficial involvement. We were simply invited by Evan Hagen, the creator of Psycho, to create a pop-up bar in the penthouse suite for his booking agents, the hotel executives and some of their VIPs involved in bringing the Psycho festival to life. We met through friends because of our shared love for doom and psych metal. That resulted in him coming to the restaurant to see what we are doing and that resulted in this fun symbiotic private party where we go out there and make great cocktails for people we really admire and then after, just enjoy the festival, which is one of the best times of the year. Bands that we like to feature their music at Kindred. We've gotten to see Uncle Acid, Ruby the Hatchet, Neurosis, Converge, Pentagram and Pallbearer — it's all our favorite stuff.
WHAT'S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MASSIVE FOUR-EYED WOLF SCULPTURE?
Kindred is a sweet-sounding word, but at the same time, it carries a wild energy like pack animals — untamed and feral. And that sums up the perfect environment that we are trying to create here. A wild, social, untamed atmosphere, but at the same time having a connection to something emotional. So we came up with the four-eyed wolf with snake horns to represent that equation. Ultimately, we felt we were rebelling against both contingents of say never putting a demonic feature as the centerpiece of your restaurant, but also a rebellion against punk and metal in that we colored the restaurant pink.
The wolf turned into this altar that Brandon Kihl created for us. A few weeks after we opened, we noticed there was money sitting in the wolf's mouth — an offering of sorts to the wolf-god we created. Money started piling up. It was something spontaneous and cool that our guests initiated, so we decided to do something special. We officially announced that any money put in the mouth of the wolf, we would matched each month and sent as a donation to the California Wolf Center here in Julian. Part of their mission that I found compelling was to help humans and wolves find a healthy coexistence with rehabilitation and education.
WE HAVE TO DISCUSS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THE HEAVY-METAL-CAT–THEMED RESTROOMS.
Bathrooms are typically an afterthought, but we wanted them to be these little moments where we could create something fun that wasn't really integrated with the rest of the space. There is this fun blog called, "Fuck Yeah! Metal Cats!" And it has these photos of cats showcasing evil- and sinister-looking behavior. So we took inspiration from that and created some original art that fills the walls with these ominous looking bloodthirsty felines that watch you throughout your time in the restroom.
For some reason, I always knew I wanted to play Sleep's "Dopesmoker" on repeat in the restrooms. That song provides this hypnotic drone and it's a really consistent soundtrack anytime someone ventures into the restrooms at Kindred. But then, each year we put in an Easter egg track that's like a two-minute pop song. So every now and then, someone might enter to Cindy Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS TO EXPAND KINDRED TO OTHER CITIES?
There are really no plans to expand. I believe in only one Kindred and I also believe in creating a neighborhood institution, not something to be copied and pasted all over. Kindred is unique to the neighborhood of South Park in San Diego and hopefully has a chance at becoming a timeless establishment and a mainstay for a long time.
Kindred is also an extension of all of my personal passions and obsessions, so there's a constant inward focus to do new things, refine what we are doing and build on new inspirations. It always feels like there are exciting corners to turn inside the walls of Kindred and new things to do.
As we wrapped up our interview and photo shoot with Stetina, we noticed a quote that looms above the door as you leave the restaurant: "Hardcore will never die, but you will."