Cinema Eatery Venture Aligns with Regal

“I’ve just returned from my second visit to Cinebarre, and I’d like to thank you for bringing such a delightful experience to Asheville…”

These words represent what Terrell Braly, chief executive officer of Cinebarre LLC, proudly calls a “typical customer reaction” to the experience at his new venue. With this edition of our exclusive “Dinner at the Movies” series, Film Journal International takes a look at the refined “cinema eatery” concept of the former CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. At the time he sold his interests in 2005, there were seven locations and 47 screens around Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Texas, and the Alamo had been named “the best theatre in the United States” by Entertainment Weekly. (And praise for the movies/meals concept is growing: just named the Olympic Club, one of last month’s FJI-featured McMenamins attractions, a “Not-To-Be-Missed Movie-Theater.”)

For his latest endeavor, Braly has struck an alliance with the world’s largest exhibitor. “Cinebarre says exactly what we are: a cinema, a bar and a restaurant,” notes Braly, whose team “brainstormed” the brand name from many hundred different thoughts and submissions. “We absolutely wanted to have one word, one name that says it all.”

For Braly, the venture represents “an opportunity to make cinema or exhibition history,” in that “everybody involved with this absolutely loves what they are doing… We truly feel we have the absolute best people, the right product and the right concept. We know what the customers want and we have found the best possible partner in Regal Entertainment Group. Those people are at the top of their game.”

The joint venture was officially announced on March 29, “a unique movie theatre and restaurant concept serving food, beer and wine before and during the screening of popular first-run films, specialty programming and celebrity events.” The partners also predicted that “additional Regal, United Artists and Edwards theatres may become Cinebarres.”

“Subject to hitting certain pre-determined performance goals,” Braly elaborates, “the objective is to definitely roll this out” to additional locations, “conceivably even on a nationwide basis.” Cinebarre launched on June 29 at a converted former UATC six-plex at Biltmore Square—“a very nice theatre in an upscale mall,” last remodeled in 1993—in Asheville, North Carolina, A UA location in New York is now being eyed for the fall.

After converting one of the 160-seat Asheville auditoria into the full-service kitchen and upgrading the lobby area and former concession stand to a full-scale bar, the 23,000-square-foot (2,140-sq.-meter) facility now offers total capacity for 512, ranging from 80 to about 180 seats. Putting in one-foot bench tables (30 cm) and sufficient row and aisle spacing “for the server or runner to pass by, you are going to lose about half the original capacity,” Braly calculates. Although he is not ruling out future stadium-raked options, “for our concept, the sightlines with the sloped floor are quite wonderful and pose no obstacles whatsoever.” On the contrary, perhaps, as service continues throughout the feature presentation, there’s no risk of waiters falling down stairs holding pitchers filled with soda or any one of 12 different draft beers, or glasses of wine or frozen margaritas or daiquiris.

Auditorium seating usually begins 30 to 45 minutes prior to showtime. Braly delineates the timeline for the full- and part-time staff of around 100 employees: “Within five minutes of a customer sitting down, they will be greeted. Within ten minutes of their order being placed, they will receive their drink, and their dinner will arrive within 20 minutes. A substantial portion of our orders are placed, if not actually delivered, prior to showtime. Only a very small percentage is placed after the movie begins and they are mostly refills.” Whereas others call “last orders” before the beginning of the feature, Braly “absolutely” feels that service should be available until approximately 45 minutes prior to the end of the show. After “a very delicate last call, the checks are dropped, collected and processed... It’s a seamless process and exactly as if they were leaving a regular movie theatre. Except they had an enjoyable experience with us.”

Other than “always freshly prepared, quality foods” that include “our own pizza dough and sauce, handmade veggie burgers and homemade desserts” Braly also insists on technology as part of the tasty cinema serving. While Cinebarre uses the same Christie digital projection systems that National CineMedia deploys in all Regal locations, “our pre-show is made in-house.” With a background in concert promotions and several years in New York as head of post and production house National Video Industries, he is developing a mix of shorts, music, public-domain clips, entertainment and other subjects related to the films on the bill that are either self-produced or have been submitted by aspiring talent. “The show that comes with Hairspray,” he exemplifies, “has been developed with that particular title in mind. It is custom-produced and you will not see that pre-show again,” he promises. “One big thing that differentiates us from traditional movie theatres and other cinema eateries in general is that we have no advertising whatsoever in our pre-show.”

“Instead of endless Coke commercials,” the contented customer quoted at the top of our story reports, “I get to see inventive tidbits of interest that are relevant to the movie I’m about to see. The screens are gorgeous and the sound is exquisite… Cinebarre makes it important to see a movie on the big screen.”

“We opened with all first-run films and our business model will continue to primarily do so,” Braly declares. He also intends to add “a smattering of art films, and themed events once in a while.” There is a sixth screen on the exterior of the building that, on summer Sunday nights after the mall has closed, presents free “calendar-type” screenings. By the time inclement weather arrives, Cinebarre hopes to be further frequency-equipped to become a drive-in attraction. Back under the hardtop—Cinebarre customers do not need to purchase any food or snacks to watch the movie—regular admission is $9 and industry-standard reduced prices are $7. After having discounted the subrun approach “and proven ourselves in our previous incarnation at the Alamo,” Braly enthuses, “the partnership with Regal gives us unbelievable respect and strength in the industry from a film-buying standpoint.”

No wonder, then, that “projection matters very much to us.” About the theatrical presentation, Braly says, “We never, ever would want to be good enough for a cinema eatery. From the equipment standpoint, from the training and experience of our projection management, all and everything is top-notch, certified. Distributors couldn’t care less about the quality of our food; what they care about is the quality of film exhibition. So we strive to be absolutely first-class in that too.”

How does the public respond to all this drive? “We have people who have been coming more than once a week,” Terrell Braly attests. Nonetheless, the last word should obviously go to our very happy guest quoted above: “I, like many serious film aficionados, have limited my cinema experiences of late because of distracting audiences and exorbitant snack prices.” As for the latter, he observes that “for what I would pay for a large popcorn and soda at a typical theatre, I get a gourmet meal and considerate, phenomenal service at Cinebarre.” On the other issue he wonders, “Why see a movie in a theatre full of noisy teens on cell-phones when you can spend less money on a functionally equivalent experience in your own home? Modern home-theatre equipment is more than capable of depicting film in ways that meet the needs of movie buffs who have become disenchanted with the status quo in theatres. I have long been content with a steady diet of Netflix DVDs.” Now, however, “Cinebarre has brought me back… I wish you tremendous success. I believe you are already well on your way. Thank you for bringing some magic back to the movies.”

Cinebarre LLC
800 Brevard Road
Asheville, NC  28806
Tel: (828) 393-0960
Fax: (828) 393-0958

Terrell Braly, Chief Executive Officer
Pamela Braly, Chief Financial Officer
Chad Rankin, VP of Construction
Vanessa Rankin, VP of Creative Affairs
Jeff Martens, Director of Operations/General Manager, Asheville
Jason Brian, Director of Food and Beverage
Edward Braly, Webmaster