Local Loaf bakes the whole-grain bread for the turkey sandwiches and hot dog buns. Prestige Farms supplies the breasts and tenders for the roasted chicken. And Nova’s Bakery kneads the dough for the main menu item – pizza.
Nearly everything that’s new inside the renovated Carolina Cinemas in Matthews – the food, especially – comes from Charlotte-area businesses that help boost profits at the theater. The cinema, located on Monroe Road, is fresh off a $2.5 million transformation that added leather electric recliners and ottomans to its auditoriums, 26 craft beers to its bar and LED lighting to its parking lot.
“We want to be distinguished sort of as the local theater,” said Robert Crane, chief operating officer of Carolina Cinemas – which is based, ironically, in Austin, Texas (more on that later).
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Last year, the theater generated $1.2 million in ticket sales despite the eight-month construction process, Crane said. Because he predicts the upgrades will drive demand, Crane expects the multiplex to make $2.4 million in ticket sales by year’s end.
The luxury theater concept, with its fast-casual restaurants, bars and amenities, is gaining traction as theater owners search for innovative ways to attract new audiences, keep older ones and recover from declining box office revenues, said Patrick Corcoran, vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Theatre Owners.
At Carolina Cinemas, the local touch adds to the special feel.
Sladjana Novakovic, owner of Nova’s Bakery, and her employees deliver dough and multigrain bread for the theater’s pizzas, French baguettes and hoagies.
“Once they approached us, we were really happy with … what they’re trying to do,” she said. “What they have in mind is really cool.”
Texas meets the Queen City
Walk into Carolina Cinemas, and you’ll see it still has its traditional concessions stand that sells sodas, popcorn and candy. But to the right, you’ll find bar stools, a kitchen and a menu of delicacies topped with lemon garlic aioli, apple cider gastrique and agave tahini sauce – all made on-site.
It wasn’t always this extravagant.
The space originally opened in 1985 as Crown Point 12, an eight-screen, slumped-floor movie theater.
In 2008, it was sold to William Banowsky, a Texan movie-theater magnate, after the U.S. Department of Justice sued Regal Cinemas Inc. and Consolidated Theatres Holding GP in an attempt to block their proposed $210 million merger. Federal officials said the deal would hurt competition among other mainstream theaters in the Charlotte, Raleigh and Asheville regions, resulting in higher ticket prices and diminished quality for moviegoers, federal officials said.
To continue with the merger, Regal Cinemas sold four theaters in the Charlotte, Raleigh and Asheville regions to Banowsky, who rebranded them as Carolina Cinemas. The Matthews theater remained untouched until early 2014 when Banowsky sought to replicate success he achieved with a luxury theater he owns in Texas, Crane said.
“It was a great site, … but the facility had aged enough where it wasn’t the best presentation in town,” Crane said.
That’s when the Charlotte-area businesses came into play.
Cool kitchen, tasty eats
To boost the theater’s image, Hendrick Construction, a Charlotte-based construction firm, helped convert an office into a kitchen, reduced seating from 1,800 to 800 and extended auditorium platforms, said company president Roger Hendrick.
The upgrades reflect changing attitudes about what moviegoers expect at the cinema.
“People want food, they want a bar, they want really nice seats,” said Hope Branch, Carolina Cinemas’ operations director. “If you’re sitting for two hours, you want to be comfortable.”
And, apparently, well-fed.
Prestige Farms, a family-owned poultry distributor based in Charlotte, provides the theater with fresh chicken tenders and breasts – a deal that Branch said will save Carolina Cinemas about 53 percent in distributor costs.
Local Loaf, based in the 7th Street Public Market, supplies the theater with whole grain bread for turkey sandwiches and brioche hot dog buns. “They’re telling everybody about it,” said owner and executive chef Adam Spears. “They love our product. … It’s definitely a boon for us.”
Stadiums and theaters, Spears said, are “getting away from the big purchasers … and sourcing local.”
“It’s a big trend in restaurants,” said Corcoran with the theater association. “As you see more restaurants in theaters, you’re going to see them looking at the same sort of things restaurants do.”
From mostly positive Google reviews to more than 40,000 Facebook views while showing “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the cinema’s changes have won over the locals.
They include local author Mimi Milan, who worked at Crown Point 12 as a teen and wrote on Google that the theater post-renovation is “off the charts.”
Business folks like it, too. Recently, the Matthews Chamber of Commerce held an after-hours event at the cinema to give business leaders a peek at what they’ve been clamoring to see, said Chamber Executive Director Tina Whitley.
“We usually get between 50 to 70 people” at the mixers, she said. That night “we easily topped 100.”