Hamid Hashemi Hosts 'Great American Destination'

“We are not a movie theatre,” insists Hamid Hashemi, founder and chief executive officer of IPic Entertainment, right from the start. “We’re way more.”

Having forever redefined the megaplex experience at Muvico Theaters (1984 to 2005), Hashemi’s new venture is “a destination for people to get together. It’s a place where you can meet old friends and make new ones. When you think of entertainment, IPic is the first option you are going to go for. IPic takes the ‘evening out’ to a whole new level.” Not unlike shopping at the mall, where you know there’s “a certain collection of good brands inside,” IPic’s guests “will only decide what to do once they get there.”

Numerous options indeed wait on 38,000 square feet (3,530 sq. m.) of “ultimate luxury entertainment experience in a relaxed atmosphere” at the Bayshore Town Center, a 45-acre (18.2 ha) redeveloped lifestyle center by Steiner + Associates located in upscale metro Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As Hashemi describes it, “We’ve taken the most popular forms of entertainment—historically in this country, movies, bowling and dining—and brought them together under one roof.” Though this may indeed be “the simplest way of putting it,” the execution of the concept is far more advanced and sophisticated and has surely benefited from the pioneering of the “Premier” VIP concept at Muvico Palace in Boca Raton, Florida.

IPic Theaters boast six “ultra-deluxe movie screening rooms,” with 24-inch risers and 54-inch row spacing (60 and 140 cm, respectively). Capacities range from 45 to 90 seats for a total of over 400 custom-designed, six-foot wide loveseats (183 cm) and newly developed luxury swivel-loungers (both from Seating Concepts); with “standard” seating, these auditoriums could have accommodated twice the number of chairs. The cinemas feature all-2K DLP Cinema Barco installations (per agreement with Technicolor Digital Cinema) and two 35mm projectors side by side. The “opulent atmosphere” is further enhanced by assigned seating (available online, at ticket machines, wirelessly, with an attendant over the phone and throughout the venue), curved screens, “High-Definition digital sound” and “exceptional personal service” from about 150 employees. Included in the reserved ticket and amenities price are complimentary popcorn, valet parking and a “no advertising” policy.

In another policy, the theatres opted for an adults-only atmosphere where guests need to be at least 21 years old to purchase movie tickets after 6 p.m. The same restriction holds true, of course, for the consumption of alcoholic beverages that are available to take inside the auditoria from the full-service “Sequel” bar with seating for 120, and from the one in the spacious lobby. While the latter location also functions as the concession stand, Hashemi assures that despite gourmet chocolates, designer candy and locally sourced baked goods and desserts, “it’s still 90% bar” with wines by the glass and bottle, champagne, martinis and more. “For guests without enough time to sit down and enjoy a full-course meal at our ‘Ovation’ restaurant, the lobby bar offers a full menu where guests can select their food.” Alerted by a pager, they then pick up their order “to eat right there” or for consumption during the film.

Unlike other concepts—as exemplified in FJI’s exclusive “Dinner at the Movies” series over the past few months—IPic does not provide service inside the auditoria. “We do not interfere with the moviegoing experience,” Hashemi explains. “I like to keep the focus on the film.” The built-in trays at the loveseats and the new lounger concept featuring tables in the front rows of the house “provide the convenience necessary to eat while watching a movie, if our guest chooses to do so.”

IPic doesn’t “like to say ‘no’ to a customer,” he insists, so the full restaurant menu is available. “Realizing it is more difficult to eat penne à la vodka in the theatre,” however, “people tend to order the finger foods instead.” At Ovation, the appropriately named 140-seat “casual chic” restaurant, corporate chef Adam Lamb designed the signature dishes—from Calamari & Rock Shrimp, Crossroad’s Ranch Bison Chili and Seared Tuna & Sesame Noodle Salad to Bratwurst Po Boy and Lake Superior Whitefish, to Chocolate Fondue for Two—to enjoy during lunch, brunch, dinner and late-evening dining. IPic also offers a special “Goldfinger” dessert martini, mixing Van Gogh Double Espresso Vodka, Godiva Dark Chocolate Custard and Vanilla Bean Syrup, 24 Karat Gold.

In developing the IPic food and beverage concept, Hashemi cites research whereby 78% of moviegoers eat before or after the film. And, on average, people go out to over 100 dining experiences per year. “More often than not, they skip one or the other because of the time it takes. If we bring the two closer together, we can give people back some of their time, which is a most valuable commodity today.” The same idea is behind the Sequel bar that, for him, also “brings a sophisticated vitality to the restaurant, adding to the overall energy level at IPic.”

The biggest buzz or bang, perhaps, comes from the 11 competition-size, ultra-cool designer bowling lanes with “nightclub-quality audio” and a 65-foot video wall (20 m). At “Pinstrikes,” plush couches can be sectioned off for private parties, just as the entire IPic complex is available for group rentals and other functions. Looking ahead, Hashemi already plans to include a live component with a dedicated stage theatre in some of the upcoming developments. “It all depends on the market, what else there is,” he says about the changing concert landscape that has seen smaller venues strive with more comfort and much higher ticket prices. Other than standup comedy or locally known acts, “I envision the kinds of acts that used to go in 1,500 to 2,500-capacity venues. Our space is designed very much like a Las Vegas showroom with all-banquette seating facing a stage. IPic Live will offer a great mix of entertainment.”

“The movie business is undergoing major changes,” Hashemi declares. “[People] who don’t acknowledge that are fooling themselves.” Drawing comparisons to what happened in the music industry, Hashemi predicts, “It is inevitable that you are going to have closer if not simultaneous releases of pictures on DVD and downloads… Just look how much money is lost to piracy, how much smaller the window has already gotten—how fast films gross the majority of their box-office take. People will by no means stop going to the movies. They still want to go out, but they are going to pick and choose where to go.”

Once movies become a commodity, he elaborates, “As mere commodity providers, average theatres will not be able to compete with other means of delivery—i.e., home theatre. The ones that are in great locations and destination projects, along with the ones that offer services and amenities that you do not find in your house, those are the ones that will thrive.”

Historically, Hashemi knows, this business has created facilities for a mass-market audience, but at IPic “for the first time, we are building theatres that are designed for a particular demographic. Unlike other forms of retail or restaurants and entertainment, where offerings and prices are diversified, we as exhibitors have always built to serve every age segment at the same time in the same facility. The 21+ [group] just doesn’t want to go to that kind of theatre any more to have an average experience.”

To communicate the changes and what makes the IPic experience more exciting, Hashemi considered over 2,000 names. “I kid you not,” he laughs. “We spent a fortune to find something that hasn’t been done before and with no previous associations so that we can first create and then build out the brand. We wanted to use something that had no relation to theatres or to bowling, because we are offering so much more. If we do as good a job as we are supposed to, the name will become synonymous with quality.”

IPic was finally settled upon over dinner with the family; for Hashemi, it’s a name that evokes words like “epic,” “picture,” “iPod,” and “the eye.” “And you can say, ‘I pick what I want to do when I get there.’ It’s a play on words, yet you don’t really know what it all stands for. Once people come inside and experience the environment and the service, they are blown away by it. It gives us a chance to establish the brand.”

And establish it Hamid Hashemi will. “All our next projects have eight screens and about 800 seats”—in addition to the full entertainment package of restaurant, bars and bowling. He reveals to FJI that he’s “on track to open four to six new locations per year.” Currently under contract—and soon under construction—are locations in Plano and Arlington, both in Texas, along with Schaumburg, Illinois, and Aventura/Miami, Florida. “We’re going to draw people that stopped going to the movies,” Hashemi promises. “Instead of someone going once or twice a year, they are going to see ten with us because of the different experience.”

A Selection of Manufacturers & Service Providers
Projectors—DLP Cinema: Barco DP-100; cinema server: DCP-2000; film: Century SATA; video/digital (lobby): Texas Digital Systems; digital-cinema systems provider: Technicolor.

Strong CAN-200 automation systems; Isco lenses; Strong SCDC platters; Strong Superhight IIA lamp houses; QSC amplifiers; JBL speakers; Dolby Digital EX sound for 35mm; installation by Strong.

Seating by Seating Concepts; Hurley screens; Lewis Theatrical Installations masking; Tivoli aisle lighting; Strong lighting dimmers.

Schult poster cases; Cretors concession equipment and popcorn; Micros concession software; concession supplies by QualServe; U.S. Foods specialty food items; Badger popcorn.

Titan Technology Group ticketing software; Boca Systems ticket stock and gift certificates.

Architects: TK Architects; designers/consultants: McBride Design; construction company: Shawmut.