Landmark Achiever: James Mason leads foodservices at major Canadian circuit
James Mason may share a name with a great movie star, but he’s forged his own identity as a distinguished exhibitor. As VP of foodservices at Canada’s Landmark Cinemas, this French Canadian has spent the past six years devoted to improving the cinema experience, with a dedication to service and a belief that the customer comes first.
His career encompasses serving patrons in the grocery business, leading teams in the coffee shop trade, and now integrating his leadership skills into the cinema profession. His first theatre management position at a small circuit led to responsibilities at one of Canada’s largest exhibition enterprises, Landmark. He now directs the foodservice operations for a circuit representing 45 theatres and over 365 screens.
James arrived in this world via Ottawa, Ontario. His parents both worked for the Canadian government and he attended French Catholic schools, where he learned to speak French fluently. “I was never allowed to speak English at school—it caused me to learn French and converse with teachers and fellow students endlessly. If I was ever caught speaking English, well, let’s just say it was a no-no,” he laughs. Mason confides that he “earned his business degree from the school of hard knocks.” He later received his CCM certification at the NAC Convention in Denver. His family continues to have strong roots in Ottawa, as his mom still lives in the house where he grew up.
Mason is proud that he began his working disciplines at an early age, shoveling snow for money at age six, cutting lawns and doing odd jobs until he secured his first real job at age 12, bagging groceries. He provided his own livelihood at age 17 and moved out of the family home with enough income to support himself.
He soon began understanding the needs of the patron and the value of personal attention to their individual preferences. He spent eight years in the grocery business and then became a district manager for Starbucks in Calgary, Alberta.
James says he never sought a position in the cinema business. His entrée into exhibition came when his close friend Matt Craig, who he worked with in his previous ventures, invited him to interview for the director of operations position at Empire Cinemas in Western Canada. “Matt said, ‘Hey, I think I’ve got something you will find pretty cool.’ Nearly six years later, here I am—I cannot see myself working in any other profession.” He notes that Empire was searching for someone with an outsider’s experience in customer service who could influence their staff with a progressive, customer service-oriented style.
His current position was elevated when Empire was purchased by Landmark and he became in essence the food division manager for the West Coast of Canada, where he has excelled. Asked about his best character traits, he acknowledges that he labors over details and claims to be a perfectionist. “Well, maybe semi-perfect,” he adds. He constantly looks for ways to make the guest experience perfect yet accepts that there will be flaws. This is what makes James Mason such a valued executive in his organization: never accepting the status quo and continuously finding ways to perfect the moviegoing experience through food and beverages.
He confides, “As a movie lover, there are one or two places where my mind will completely shut out the surrounding challenges. Movies take me away from the stresses in life and allow me to recharge.” His favorite movie is Top Gun, and he says he has only watched two bad movies ever in his lifetime. Of course, he enjoys a large tub of popcorn with each visit, along with an ice-cold Cherry Vanilla Coke.
Mason enjoys being able to merge food selection as a part of the overall entertainment experience at the cinema. “How can I create an occasion for all movie lovers?” he asks. “Be it a salty snack, sweet, savory or perceived ‘healthy,’ all guests want to be entertained.”
James says his ultimate challenge is keeping up with always-changing food trends. Trying to meet health and wellness expectations while still providing the enjoyment of sugary items and treats is his biggest quest. “You cannot be all things to all people. However, finding that balance can be the greatest opportunity and most rewarding if you can achieve that end.” You can see why James is one of Canada’s most respected exhibition executives. Hard work, complete dedication and a never-quit approach guide him to be the best Landmark Cinemas can be.
James enjoys playing golf in the summer, and his real joy comes from watching his son play hockey. He is also a connoisseur of single malts. James and his wife Jennifer have two children: daughter Mackenzie, 18, and son Jakob, 15.