In the Blood: National Amusements’ Patrick Micalizzi traces cinema roots to pre-teen years

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Cinemas Features

This month, Film Journal International shines its spotlight on a concessions professional with over 35 years of experience: Patrick Micalizzi, assistant VP, food and beverage, at National Amusements Inc. Patrick has served theatre concessions operations since he was 11 years old, sweeping and collecting trash from auditoriums at his local cinema. His rise to his current position has been methodical. He now oversees operations domestically and assists in 946 screens in 81 locations internationally, managing vast changes in the industry.

Patrick was born and reared in Westchester County, a suburb of Manhattan, and attended a mix of public and private schools there. One of his greatest influences while growing up was his grandmother, Florence, now 92, who stills works multiple days a week. “She is always laughing about something and does not take anything too seriously. Grandma ‘Nan’ always gives me great advice and makes me laugh. I have definitely inherited her work ethic. I hope to have her energy when I am 92,” he marvels.

You can sense his humor as he describes an early moment in his career while working in the booth with Teflon film—probably in the mid-’80s. “To enter the booth, I was required to go through the men’s restroom and then up a long flight of stairs. One day, while rewinding a 20-minute reel of a movie, I went to place the film on the upper magazine of a reel and it slipped off and proceeded to bounce all the way down the stairs, landing in the men’s room.” He “gracefully” retrieved the film and put it back together on the reel, all while trying to maintain a sense of dignity.

The theatre business is in his blood. He recalls that he was known around town because of his affiliation with the theatre. His grandmother worked as an usherette in the 1940s. His great uncles, George, Sammy and Pasquale, also worked as ushers at the same time. Patrick says that tradition never skipped a generation. He ended up working in the same playhouse-style theatre. Even as the theatre was split into four screens, he and his cousins worked to open the doors and greet guests each day. He hopes his nephew will carry on the tradition in the coming years.

Micalizzi believes today’s business retains many of the traits it had when he “was a kid.” But “at times it is unrecognizable. It is ever-changing.” Food and beverages are different, but the experience is the same. “The movies have always been a place for guests to escape and forget about reality, even if just for a little while.” He sees his responsibility as continuing to stretch and challenge the limits of movie entertainment to help that experience evolve.

Enhancing food and beverage offerings are the greatest opportunities, he believes. That includes expanding adult beverages and “keeping the experience fresh,” while using innovation and leveraging technology to help achieve that goal. He feels it’s more difficult to entice patrons to “join us” at a time of stay-at-home comforts that compete for people’s time. “This is why we have to be the best at what we do,” he contends. He likens himself to a sculptor, taking something seen as routine (like selling popcorn and sodas) and transforming it into something special. Great promotions can help, and staff engagement can create that unforgettable moment guests will remember for a lifetime. Patrick’s passion for his job extends to creating specialty cocktails and developing unique food fare as well. Patrick Micalizzi never sees his occupation as work; for him, it’s more like a hobby. Throughout his illustrious career it’s been, well, just what he does! “I watched, I learned, I did. My goal was to always learn the next job function. I have been blessed to have incredible mentors. I remember wanting to learn everything I could from a cinema owner, Ralph Friedman, and his son Bobby.” It was so fascinating to him that at age 18, directly out of high school, he was given the option to take ownership of a single-screen cinema. Image that! At age 18, Patrick owned his own theatre. No wonder he has invested so much of his time in this industry. “It was fascinating then, and it still is today!” he insists.

Mel Brooks’The History of the World, Part I is his favorite film, a picture that depicts historic events in a comically outrageous way. “Who doesn’t like Mel Brooks?” he asks. “I could say something traditional like The Godfather, but this film reminds me not to take things too seriously.” Among his favorite actors is Morgan Freeman, and dream vacation spots include Egypt and Italy’s Amalfi Coast. His favorite book is by Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People, attributes that seem to be working, since Patrick has become one of the most respected exhibition leaders of his generation.