New face at Carmike: Rob Lehman brings varied experience to food and beverage operation
As a new service to our readership, Film Journal International is launching monthly profiles of concession executives in the cinema industry. We will alternate between operators and suppliers and bring you a personal look at the individuals who are making things happen in our industry. Whether you already know the individual or have the pleasure of an introduction through this process, our hope is to give you a vivid sense of his or her career and provide deeper knowledge of your peers.
The timing of this new feature coincides with an era of tremendous change for the concession business. The experience inside the cinema has had to keep pace with the expectations of a very demanding consumer. And theatre management has had to keep pace with a very demanding economy. Consequently, there has been a great consolidation of cinema operators, resulting in the accompanying movement of executive personnel. This sometimes makes it hard to keep up with where people have been and where they end up. But this industry is one that tends to keep its players. Working in the cinema industry is a fun business indeed.
My first profile focuses on Rob Lehman, the new VP of food and beverage at Columbus, Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas, and his story is truly representative of this upheaval.
Rob began his film career as a college student at Illinois State University when he joined the Capen Film Board in his sophomore year, selecting the movies to be shown on campus and managing the staff that was showing the movies. The university program offered one-dollar movies and 50-cent popcorn, but no drinks were allowed because it took place in a lecture hall. In his junior year, Rob became president of the Film Board. After graduation, Rob took a job as a manager trainee at Kerasotes Theatres in Springfield, Illinois, and was managing his own theatre in a very short time, the Esquire 4. After several years in management, he was asked to manage the concession department for the entire chain at the corporate office, overseeing 100 locations.
Lehman worked for Kerasotes for 18 years, 11 managing concessions. While there, he was a part of the circuit’s switch from Pepsi to Coke, always a major undertaking, and also the build-out of an in-house inventory/ordering system that allowed the managers to focus on serving the customers and the corporate department to handle all ordering for the theatres.
Rob declares, “I really enjoyed all my years at Kerasotes Theatres. I learned how the details matter in every decision I make. Quality, presentation and ‘keep it simple’ are concepts I believe in that make everything work in a concession stand.”
After AMC purchased 92 locations from Kerasotes Theatres, Lehman consulted for Rave Motion Pictures for 13 months, which gave him insight into how another theatre chain operated their concession department. In September 2011, he went to work for Adam Gottlieb at Continental Concession Supplies, Inc. (CCSI), a distribution company based in New York. He worked from his house as a purchasing and special projects manager, which gave him great insight into distribution operations, a very important part of the theatre business. Rob states proudly, “Those 18 months gave me some valuable lessons on how distributors work with their customers from the first order, finding the product, purchasing the product, warehousing, stocking, loading, and finally the delivering of the product at the theatres. Working for CCSI was a wonderful experience and a very revealing process to allow me to further my knowledge and get back into the movie theatre concession business.”
In March 2013, Rob was hired as the VP of food and beverage for Carmike Cinemas. He reflects, “These past five months have been a lot of hard work, but also fun. I had really missed the concession business on the movie theatre side. I am looking forward to taking my experience from Kerasotes, Rave and CCSI and helping to continue to make Carmike Cinemas a leader in the movie theatre business. David Passman and Fred Van Noy have been really outstanding to work for and I have enjoyed learning the Carmike Cinemas way and how we can take the food and beverage department to the next level.”
Rob Lehman is very easy to meet and get to know. He always remembers his experiences and draws on them to help him analyze and solve problems. He is loyal to his family and has been married to Rachel Lehman for 15 years and smiles when he talks about his two children Jack and Averie. He says Rachel has given up a lot to move their family to Columbus, including her job as a high-school teacher and a long life built in Springfield, but he doesn’t intend to disappoint her. Rob says he and his family will head to the beach when possible, only four hours from Columbus—a nice side benefit.
Rob Lehman’s love of the movie business is longstanding and dear, as it is with so many of executives in this industry. Along with movies, he enjoys golf and reading. As one last tidbit, his favorite concession treat is popcorn and a Diet Coke, a classic combo that has proven its success as well.