January 25, 2013

Studio Movie Grill replacing Mez, theater at EpiCentre

Combined restaurant-nightspot-movie theater in Epicentre will be the second such concept in Charlotte.

Brian Schultz, owner of Studio Movie Grill, has had his eye on the EpiCentre since before the project opened. In late February, his company will open a 30,000-square-foot restaurant and movie theater in the defunct Mez/EpiCentre Theaters location.

The concept will be similar to Mez and EpiCentre Theaters, a combined restaurant-nightspot-movie theater, where patrons reserve extra-large seats and have food and drinks with their movies. But Schultz said there will be differences: Ticket prices will come down $3, to $10 for adults, and customers can order food tableside and be served in the theater itself.

“It’s very different. We’re a chef-driven concept,” said Schultz. Studio Movie Grill, founded 20 years ago in Dallas, has a dozen theaters, the majority in Texas. Mez and the current theater will close permanently after Sunday. The EpiCentre Studio Movie Grill, Schultz’s first North Carolina location, will open Feb. 26.

Studio Movie Grill is Charlotte’s second new movie-dinner concept to open in the year. Cinebarre opened a similar business in south Charlotte’s Arboretum shopping center last summer.

The Studio Movie Grill menu includes crab cakes, kale and avocado salads, and coconut chicken tenders. The company’s movie ticket prices vary by location, but are generally around $10 for evening movies. Children 2 and under aren’t allowed in movies rated R or PG-13 after 6 p.m., to cut down on noise complaints. The company also hosts training, parties, and other events at its theaters.

Schultz said his company was looking to run the restaurant-theater business at the EpiCentre before the more-than 300,000-square-foot entertainment and office complex opened. But when the original developer started running into financial troubles, Schultz backed out. But he kept the location in mind.

“We just kept this kind of in our back pocket,” said Schultz. “We had always liked the area.” He jumped at the chance to move in to the EpiCentre when it became clear Mez and the EpiCentre Theaters were in serious trouble.

The EpiCentre’s current owners, the Blue Air investor group, said the new theater will serve as a draw for people of all ages. “Studio Movie Grill is a strong fit for our vision of EpiCentre as Charlotte’s preeminent dining and entertainment destination,” the group said in a statement.

EpiCentre is in the midst of a $15 million renovation effort, aimed in part at attracting a more diverse clientele, including families, and changing the complex’s reputation as mainly a nightspot. Studio Movie Grill joins a list of recently announced tenants that includes an Italian restaurant, La Tagliatela, a Hibachi Grill and an eatery and music spot, Tin Roof.

EpiCentre ownership dispute

Mez and the EpiCentre Theater were embroiled in the larger ownership dispute surrounding the EpiCentre in which the original developer, Afshin Ghazi, lost ownership of the complex during foreclosure. Blue Air 2010 bought the project’s $94 million construction loan in fall 2010, followed by years of further legal wrangling. Ghazi eventually signed over most of the EpiCentre, but kept ownership in EpiCentre Theater Partners, which owned the movie theater, Mez Restaurant and Kazba nightclub.

Last August, a federal judge ordered Ghazi to sign documents giving up all his remaining ownership in the complex. The EpiCentre’s owners filed a separate lawsuit to collect back rent from EpiCentre Theater Partners and related parties, including Ghazi. They alleged that the theater hadn’t been paying its $36,844 monthly rent and $2,947 trash fee from January through July of 2012.

According to a December settlement filed in federal court, Ghazi agreed to release all claims to funds held by EpiCentre Theater Partners, and agreed to pay a $15,000 settlement in the case. The parties agreed to voluntarily dismiss the case.

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