“We like to say we’re a good old-fashioned diner with an edge,” said Mills, who built the original Rudy’s in Emeryville in 2002.
Rock and roll references are scattered throughout the restaurant's menu, décor and on the walls.
“They’re like hidden Easter eggs,” said Mills.
Some are obvious, like an Elvis-themed table. Others are more obscure, like the table featuring Mike Dirnt's old scissor collection and a dish called “Combat Mac ‘n Cheese,” a wink to The Clash’s classic fifth album.
To keep the restaurant’s look fresh, the owners regularly have what Mills calls a "jam session" to come up with new themes.
Along one wall is a glass cabinet housing a long row of dolls, resembling a diverse range of film characters, celebrities and pop culture icons. Oakland local MC Hammer keeps company with global teen icon Justin Bieber. Wonder Woman even makes an appearance. Mills, an avid toy collector, said at least 25 of the dolls come from his three young daughters' own toy boxes.
Each doll wears the same turquoise blue cropped jacket and a name badge with the words “I am Rudy,” a reference to the restaurant’s rock and roll ethos that everyone is welcome, and everyone is equal.
“A lot of the messages in music are very similar,” Mills said. “It’s about love and good times.”
The restaurant has a full-sized metal dining car in the back that Mills built at his West Oakland workshop and reassembled like a piece of IKEA furniture. Rudy’s runs a special with the Fox, offering tickets to a show and dinner for 10 in the car. Patrons in the private section can duck and dive like celebrities for the night through a hidden entrance that leads directly from the dining car to the theater.
The synergy with the Fox was at first a tough sell. The recently renovated theater's management wanted a more upscale, fine dining restaurant to be its neighbor. But after more than a year of talks, Mills and his three partners prevailed.
“We think it’s the perfect fit,” said Mills, who insists there’s no bad blood between them. “We’re good friends with Fox.”
The success of the negotiations is in part thanks to the City of Oakland, which leases the space to Rudy’s. The city wanted a family restaurant adjacent to Fox in its quest to revitalize the economically depressed downtown area.
“We’re a vital piece in the redevelopment of downtown Oakland,” said Mills. “We fit the diversity of the Oakland community very well."
Mills grew up in the East Bay, and has lived in Piedmont for nearly a decade. He plays an active role in the community and served as chairman of the Park Commission in 2009. He and his wife also produce Beach Elementary School’s annual musical. He said he relishes the sense of community so keenly felt in the city.
Mills said he hopes to bring the sense of community he feels in Piedmont to his new culinary adventure.