AP NEWS

Richland Yoke’s manager and KISS superfan Dave Slackman brings Gene Simmons’ soda to Eastern Washington, and meets his idol in the process

May 22, 2019

To say Dave Slackman is a die-hard KISS fan is an understatement. The assistant manager of Yoke’s Fresh Market in South Richland has loved the rock band since age 10. Slackman has seen KISS 10 times. He dresses up as KISS frontman Gene Simmons for Halloween – makeup, platform boots and all.

Because he was successful in getting Simmons’ MoneyBag Soda on Yoke’s shelves in Washington state, he was rewarded with lunch with Simmons in Spokane. Shortly afterward, he had the soda logo tattooed on his upper arm and was flown to a KISS concert – with his wife, a wine steward at another Yoke’s in Richland – where Simmons signed the tattoo.

And Slackman, who traveled to Spokane for work when he was on Yoke’s board and has worked for the grocery store chain for more than 15 years, four of them in Richland, plans to drive to Spokane soon to meet up with fellow KISS Army fans.

Slackman’s fandom dates back to childhood. He remembers, at age 10, his mother would have his older brother and him wash the kitchen floor before Friday dinner. “My brother would blast ‘Detroit Rock City,’ and it would become one of my favorite KISS songs of all time,” said Slackman on May 13 after a Mother’s Day weekend in Seattle with his wife visiting their son.

Fast forward about three decades to December. Slackman was scrolling through Facebook and noticed that Simmons’ MoneyBag Soda was available on the East Coast but nowhere near him. He contacted the bottler, Paul Janik Jr., via Facebook and inquired about distributing the soda in Yoke’s stores. Much to his surprise, Janik responded quickly and affirmatively.

The sodas – cola, diet cola, root beer, ginger ale and cream soda, with more flavors in the works – hit Yoke’s shelves in Spokane the first week in April, then in Richland on April 8. That wasn’t it for Slackman, however, as Janik had a surprise for him even before the bottles were stocked here.

Slackman said, “He told me, ‘I really like your initiative. I want you to meet Gene in Spokane.’ ” Slackman and his wife were already going to the band’s Feb. 4 concert, so their itinerary now included lunch the day before – Super Bowl Sunday – with Simmons, his team and Yoke’s execs at Northern Quest Resort & Casino.

“Before the lunch, which was about two hours, one of my supervisors from the corporate office asked me, jokingly, ‘Are you going to be able to maintain yourself?’ ” Slackman said, laughing. “It was a long table, and we chose seats so that he would sit right next to me. The first thing he did was put his hand on my wife’s shoulder.”

This wasn’t Slackman’s first time meeting Simmons. He said, “We had met him at a meet-and-greet in the Tri-Cities in 2015 or 2016, and he made it seem like we were old friends at the lunch. He was wearing a MoneyBag hat and sweat suit, and he was the coolest guy in the world. We talked about our moms. His died one month ago and mine a year ago. He was an awesome guy just sitting at the table talking about life.

“At one point, I said to him, ‘It’s really hard for me to concentrate. You’re Gene Simmons!’ He’s a rock god; he’s the God of Thunder. He made that week fantastic. He made my bosses fans, too. He was just a normal guy hanging out with us at lunch during Super Bowl Sunday.”

After the lunch, Slackman had the idea to further cement his KISS adoration by having the MoneyBag Soda logo tattooed on his upper right arm. Janik and he texted back and forth about it, and Simmons liked the idea, too. The first part of the tattoo, the Money Bag crest, was completed by Joey Armstrong of Thunderhand Tattoo in Richland.

Janik was feeling generous and flew the Slackmans to the KISS concert at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut on March 23 – for Simmons to autograph the tattoo during a meet-and-greet before the concert. Simmons signed his named with a pink Sharpie so that a tattoo artist could make the design permanent later.

“We were treated like rock stars. We were given tickets and backstage passes,” Slackman said. “It was my 10th KISS concert, and it was definitely the most memorable. I’ve seen KISS a few times in Las Vegas and in the Tri-Cities with my wife and son.

“Connecticut was over-the-top memorable because I felt like a rock star myself. We had the flu and a cold when we returned home. We joked that we got sick because we partied like rock stars, but we’re just Yoke’s managers.”

Janik said the beverages are now available in 17 Yoke’s locations in Washington and Idaho, including Spokane.

“They’ve been selling fantastically at Yoke’s, and we couldn’t do it without fans like Dave. When he told me that he wanted to get a MoneyBag Soda tattoo on his arm – now that’s commitment! – we had to fly him to a KISS concert to get it signed by Gene Simmons.”

Slackman’s favorite MoneyBag Soda is diet, and he’s been told by customers that the root beer is one of the best around. “Fans will buy one bottle to drink and one bottle to save. Others have done the same with cases of MoneyBag Soda because it’s Gene Simmons.”

Slackman summed up, “I like all the KISS songs, but ‘Detroit Rock City,’ ‘Shout It Out Loud’ and ‘I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night’ are my favorites. I wear a KISS buckle, I have their icons on my left shoulder blade and now the tattoo on my upper right arm. They’re always with me.”

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press.All rights reserved.