Cinema Cuisine: Burke Group reveals recipe for theatre dining success

Cinemas Features

Following last month’s feature about Silverspot Cinema at The Promenade in Coconut Creek, Florida, Film Journal International aims to please our readers’ palates with more food for thought on dinner at the movies. In an equally exclusive conversation, Stephen Goglia, president of David Burke Group, shares his insight into menu creation and food and beverage concepts as they relate to cinema cuisine.

Goglia names two reasons for what attracted a renowned and respected restaurant brand like David Burke to the movie theatre space. The first one is cultural. “Food has become an entertainment piece for everyone. Many people go to have dinner and see a show. Of late, much has changed where we are jamming more of our entertainment–in a good way–into food and into our dining experience.” Knowing Silverspot’s first location in Naples from “vacationing down on the West Coast of Florida” provided the second entry point. “They operate a premium entertainment experience. Their theatres are beautiful… In that regard, it was very easy for us to connect with Silverspot because they are a first-class organization, which I feel we are too. The collaboration really allows for our two groups to combine two great worlds.”

David Burke Group provides that expertise as part of its consulting arm: “Showtime Eats LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the David Burke Group,” Goglia says, welcoming other exhibitors and interested parties to come for advice as well. “I would say this to anybody who gets involved on the food and beverage hospitality side: This is much more complex than most people on the outside give it credit for. So it is a challenge…and it takes much wherewithal and much understanding of what is required to execute a fine product and to get that excellent product on the table”—or to the seat, we might add.

“Like in most other businesses,” Goglia observes, “there are so many items that go into the execution. In short, everyone wants that premium experience and that perfect end result, but not everyone is going to walk through the desert to get to it.” No short cuts and short-changing, in other words, not even for short-order cooking. “Anyone,” Goglia believes, “that does not have the experience should reach out to a hospitality group that seems appropriate. There has to be good chemistry and a willingness to really learn and understand what it takes and what folks are getting into… It takes a relationship to get that end result that everyone is happy with. It really does.”

With eateries and realtionships that include high-end department store and casino-resort environments, Goglia does not believe “any one is more difficult or more challenging than the other. They certainly all come with a set of failures,” he cautions about operational aspects and physical space constraints. “They present unique and different opportunities, and in terms of what it takes to put out our product… Ultimately, the goal is to prepare our premium food.” And in order to assure just that, “we really look at the heart and soul of who the partners are… When you partner up with fantastic organizations, as we have with Foxwoods in Connecticut and with Bloomingdale’s in New York City, and now Silverspot,” Goglia asserts, “you can work out and work through any of the challenges that present themselves.”

Of those challenges, Goglia concurs about the cinema environment that the actual mode of meal consumption may be the most important one. “Yes, it has to travel well. The caddy that guests are presented with and the ways in which the plates move into the theatre, how it’s eaten, has every bit to do with how we construct the food. What we really feature for the theatre…is more premium finger food, easily edible. It is not about sitting there and eating a steak, carving that up with a fork and a knife. We have steak on the menu, but we recommend that it stays in the dining room.”

To further that goal, Silverspot and Burke Group developed a special caddy tray that fits into cupholders, in addition to “a small table next to each seat so that you can properly put down the food and eat,” he elaborates. “You are not eating off something that is on your lap–like at a stadium, ballgame or in a traditional American movie theatre.” A lot of thought went into this, Goglia assures. “It took quite a few of our chefs on the project to really integrate this menu and work through the process.”

The working environment presented another unique set of issues. “We came into the project late, so the kitchen was designed by others… Just like anything, if I was going to plan a kitchen, I would have designed it slightly differently than how it was. So we also had to make the menu–and the execution of that menu–work with the plant that was presented to us. That is not the case as we go forward with Silverspot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which will open next quarter, as well as what we are doing in Beachwood, Ohio. We’ll be in right at the beginning of the building process, so we’ll have our input, really, and can fully collaborate.”

In that spirit, the name and concept of the in-house restaurant “Trilogy” will be used going forward. Even as Beachwood will deploy Italian cuisine and an Italian theme with another, yet-to-be-developed name, the idea of “Film Fare Libations” remains central to the concept. “We liked it and that’s what’s really happening in the complex: There are cocktails and beverages, premium food and there are great films. Of course, we have great service too and all else that goes with this is vitally important, but it does come down to those three key components.”

That said, Goglia knows each component has to stand on its own. “We expect the restaurant to act on itself. While there certainly is a collaborative effort where people sit down, eat, see a movie or vice-versa, we also know that people will eventually just come to enjoy Trilogy alone as a David Burke Group restaurant.” With that, the food component at Silverspot Cinema has been expanded to provide great choices without visiting the restaurant. “Guests can go to a concession stand and get their traditional items and they can get some upper-scale snacks, if you will. We offer chicken fingers, buffalo wings, sliders, and you can get pizzas… All are being made fresh, so it’s a better experience.”

The stand also features what Goglia calls “curated products from our neighbors” in the lifestyle center. “One of the things that David Burke Group does is that we always get very involved in the community,” he explains. “This is a way of tying a lot of different pieces together as we are serving the movie theatre community, the community that would like a bite to eat and the community of Coconut Creek in general.”

How has it all been working out so far? “We have learned as much as the Silverspot team has,” Goglia contends. “It’s still early—what we see working is really in [the area of] efficiency. We are learning quite a bit about what the movie theatregoer wants and what they are gravitating to. Some of it is expected and some of it is surprising, but either way it’s still too soon to tell.” What he will say, though, is that “it is clear that people want a premium product regardless of where they are.”

Goglia and David Burke Group give due credit to their partners. “Silverspot is very protective of the movie experience. There is no service in the auditorium when the movie is on. You can bring in whatever you like from the outside restaurant and concession stand, but there are no waitresses or waiters. The Silverspot team does not like those interruptions. They really hold the theatre as the Holy Grail of the experience.”

How does Stephen Goglia personally feel about the experience of going to the cinema? “I go to the movies more now that I’ve been involved with Silverspot. I’ve been a traditional guy before. I get my popcorn and Diet Coke and suffer through it, if you will, because I’ve already eaten somewhere else… In most movie theatres, there isn’t anything to eat beyond Milk Duds and Goobers. And all that other food that we shouldn’t be eating, for the most part,” he laughs, “unless we indulge ourselves.”

At Coconut Creek, that all changed, providing Goglia with a whole range of favorite items from Capri Salad to flatbreads to pasta dishes. “We have a lobster roll… I like the fact that we are bringing fresh seafood into the theatre. It’s not chicken or beef dishes alone, but also fresh seasonal salads. And there is ice cream… I think those are the items that really wake people up when they walk in. There actually is a David Burke Group restaurant in that theatre and in that complex… It’s not a skinny-down and simplified café menu. This is an upscale experience, with fresh food and all else that comes with a great restaurant.

“What I truly enjoy at Silverspot Coconut Creek,” he adds, “is seeing people’s surprise in discovering that there is a full-service dining experience coupled with the theatre. We are adding to something that’s already very good. The theatre itself is fantastic. Our food is good, but typically it would be found somewhere else. The two products together under one roof is really what has people being taken aback. Seeing their sheer amazement that they can take tuna tartare wontons into the theatre and enjoy them with a Chardonnay is what I get my biggest smile from.”