Frank 'n' Fun: CineBowl & Grille concept extends cinema entertainment
“We believe in the concept of entertainment as a whole,” says Bruce Frank, president and chief executive officer of Frank Entertainment as he gears up for several new “CineBowl & Grille” venues (www.franktheatres.com). “We just broke ground in Blacksburg, Virginia, and Ranson, West Virginia, and are following that with Syracuse, New York; Princeton, New Jersey; and Cary, North Carolina, some time over the early part of 2014.” While this seems rather speedy for a concept that was first introduced in July 2011 at Inlet Square Mall in greater Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, there is actually a long history behind it.
“It has been a longtime vision of our company and family,” Frank says, “to bring this concept to fruition where people come together for great food, the newest movies and more fun all-around.” Owned by three generations of the Frank family, beginning with Samuel Frank in 1906, the theatre division was incorporated in 1921 and runs 25 locations with 300 screens across seven states today. (See our Sept. 2008 profile) The Jupiter, Florida-based company provides the perfect kickoff to our new and exclusive series about what we have designated as CEC, the Cinema Entertainment Center.
Back in February, Frank Entertainment launched a new prototype of its CineBowl & Grille at Delray Marketplace in Delray Beach, Florida. As an entirely new venue constructed from the ground up, the concept of Frank Theatres combining “Movies, Bowling, Games, Bar, Grille” was realized to its full potential there. The 70,000-square-foot complex (6,500 sq. m.) features 12 screens (including IMAX and the proprietary FDX format featuring Dolby Atmos, along with D-Box, Sony 4K and RealD circuit-wide). The “Red Brick Grille” is an upscale-casual restaurant and bar with seating for around 100 people. Sixteen boutique bowling lanes and a full redemption arcade complement the entertainment offerings.
Together with Frank Entertainment’s other brands and related concepts of “Revolutions” and “Superplay USA,” CineBowl & Grille is the result of decades of hands-on experience and in-house expertise. “Our family has been involved in all four of the main elements that are typically associated with a true entertainment center,” Bruce Frank elaborates. “We have been in the theatre business for over 100 years. My grandfather had bowling alleys, and he, my father and myself have all operated arcades on the boardwalks along the Jersey Shore going back to the 1950s. We have owned and operated numerous restaurants in South Jersey as well as in the Philadelphia area. And at another point, Frank Entertainment owned six of the most successful nightclubs in those markets.” Speaking from a clear advantage, he shares some words of advice for our series. “You have theatre operators who may choose to just start adding these components to their multiplexes. But this is not the same business and entertainment centers require a lot more work. It is not like running a movie theatre, it’s a whole other world.”
One of those otherworldly factors is how to bring the various elements together effectively. Is new construction preferable over adding the entertainment center to the cinema part, as was the case with his Inlet Square Mall development? “CineBowl & Grille is the alternative entertainment to the theatre,” Frank responds. “So could you add that portion to an existing theatre? Sure, as long as you can functionally locate the heart of the operation in that construction. If you add it onto the side of a traditional multiplex, it is going to look and feel like a separate business as opposed to being part of the experience.” By contrast, “when you walk into our CineBowl & Grille, you enter an entire entertainment environment all at once.”
Frank draws the distinction before taking our readers on a tour of the “large and inviting lobby.” Whereas each one of them has and will continue to have “a slightly different design,” there is always a focal point to the space. “At Inlet Square, we have a circular bar located out in the middle. In Delray Beach, our concierge and check-in area separates the lobby of the theatre and concessions from the CineBowl & Grille portion. It is all an open design, however,” Frank assures, “that encourages people to move around and enjoy all the offerings.”
All the elements in a center have to be top-notch, he continues, but the most important ingredient is the food and beverage component, he believes. The proprietary Red Brick Grille is part of all the Frank Entertainment centers. “We don’t want people to think that it is just some ordinary kind of food that would be found at a theatre or in a boutique bowling environment. We want our guests to know that Red Brick Grille is a serious restaurant that we take seriously and onto a higher level.”
Both ambiance and service are means to get there. “Our restaurant features custom seating and community tables, high-end finishes and a classic-contemporary décor. The glass-top bar, which offers 20 to 25 crafted beers on tap, is made from a sliced agate material and completely illuminated from inside. It is literally glowing.”
What about “dinner at the movies,” then? (See our series on this trend) “We do not have a traditional waiter service into the auditoriums,” Frank responds. “But we certainly do allow guests to take food in and we will bring food to them, using special containers and/or trays. Because we are reserve-seated, if you order something at the concession stand, we could bring it to you. We don’t have cocktail or swivel tables at the seat. And we don’t offer two chairs and a table on the side as some competitors do.” As for the reason, “We’re not sure we want full-service waiters walking through the auditoriums.”
A wide selection of food items is available both at the concession stand and Red Brick Grille and bar, of course, and at the bowling lanes, which offer full wait service and menu options as well. “The kitchen is centrally located,” Frank notes, offering another compelling reason to design the entire venue as a Cinema Entertainment Center. “While we offer a menu of about 80 different items throughout, there are obviously several that are easier to take inside the auditoriums.” Among the 25 or so options available for in-theatre, he mentions “our flatbreads, sliders, pizzas, wings and chicken fingers, nachos and loaded spuds…in addition to the regular theatre concessions.”
While one can regularly find game arcades at multi- and megaplexes throughout the country, the 25-plus game arcade at Frank Theatres CineBowl & Grille stands out. “In the game segment we work with Betson Enterprises,” the leading distributor of coin-operated amusement and vending equipment (www.betson.com). With over 75 years of experience, the company certainly seems to make a good match for Frank Entertainment. “We are very close and have a great relationship with the family,” Frank concurs. “They keep us apprised of what games and activities are doing well, what the nation is looking for. We always get new things from them to try out. Either because we would like to or because they want to see how they will perform in our centers.” Once they have proven popular with the guests, Frank Entertainment purchases the games; there are no lease or revenue share agreements. “That way we are able to move them around between locations to keep the selections fresh and exciting. We also have an annual replenishment program where a certain percentage of our inventory is replaced with new games and activities.”
Of course, “the most enjoyment people get out of playing the games is winning prizes.” Frank goes on to talk about the redemption component. “On one hand, we have Super Bowl bubble gum, Chinese handcuffs and all the other small prizes that you would typically find in an arcade. But we also take that all the way up to cameras, iPads, iPhones, skateboards and bicycles… We encourage people to accumulate points and get to the Holy Grail.” While some games still generate traditional tickets—“Kids love to carry around ten thousand tickets,” he laughs—point collection is all computerized by swiping cards these days.
“Our stadium-style sports grille and amphitheatre with booth seating,” Frank says, “is the last piece of the entertainment puzzle” that he plans to include in future locations. Appropriately called “The Stadium,” the venue “offers an 180-degree panoramic of up to 32 different channels/events. While we can combine them into several larger images as well, the technology deploys a mix of 300-inch projection and up to 100-inch flat-screen monitors,” he enthuses. “We have used Sony, NEC, all the better technology. We have large video projection over the lanes as well for watching sports, music-videos and other programs. All of this is, of course, available for private events and personal/business videos and presentation. It’s all very functional. The Stadium has an events stage and we host live DJs four nights a week and bands over the weekends. At our Revolutions centers, we also do a Las Vegas-style showroom called ‘Revo Live.’ We could end up incorporating that feature into a CineBowl & Grille at some point as well.” Frank foresees future success “in areas where it would make a good addition.”
With a prototype location up and running at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, since January of this year, and four more on the official agenda, FJI is looking forward to another visit as part of a future entry to this series. For now, there is plenty of “Eat. Drink. Rock & Bowl.” at Revolutions, but no cinema component. “Our company represents a full solution to any landlord,” Frank explains the business proposition. “If developers come to us to work on a project, we can bring them a movie theatre, a ‘Family Entertainment Center’ or ‘Boutique Bowling’ and we can bring all of it. If you already have a theatre there, we’ll bring Revolutions. If you already have a Family Entertainment Center, we bring a state-of-the-art theatre to the development. For example, we have a proprietary and trademarked 70- to 80 foot large-screen format called FDX which offers 400 seats and Dolby Atmos. We work with Dolby to create what is just incredible sound. Our guests love it and we’ll continue to deploy it.”
At the same time, Frank Theatres also has a revenue-sharing agreement with IMAX for ten locations. At Delray Marketplace, in fact, both formats are present in side-by-side auditoriums dedicated to Bruce’s father, Alvin M. Frank, who passed away in November 2009. “We have some complexes where we will do both,” Frank confirms. “We have others where we’ll just do one or the other, depending on licensing agreements for theatres in the area.”
In Port St. Lucie, Florida, Frank Entertainment operates a fourth entertainment unit. Replete with food and beverages by Duffy’s, “the Premium Sports Grille of South Florida,” Superplay USA offers laser tag, racing simulation, batting cages, nine-hole miniature golf, a 45-game redemption arcade and no less than 48 lanes of bowling. Since “Revolutions is really an upscale boutique bowling lounge,” Frank plans to continue growing Superplay USA as a brand for family entertainment, alongside CineBowl & Grille. “We are working on bringing in other concepts like The Stadium and a couple of other ideas that we have, to develop Superplay USA where it is opportunistic and Revolutions doesn’t make a fit. Superplay USA is a great model for a tertiary market because it requires a lot of space.” Port St. Lucie has 70,000 square feet (6,500 sq. m.) and 14 Carmike Cinemas (formerly Rave) within a five-minute walk.
The wide range of Frank Entertainment Center options, he concludes, truly provides a “multi-point solution for developers who are looking for an entertainment anchor for their new developments. But we also have a dozen redevelopments in the works right now,” Frank adds. “Our concepts are great for existing locations because we can use second-generation space much better than most other businesses.” Based on more than a decade of engaging people in entertainment, “our slogan is real easy,” Bruce Frank admits. “It’s all about the experience. Simple and true. And it’s the same whether you are going to see a movie or to a nightclub, whether you are dining or bowling, watching sports or playing arcade games—it’s all about the experience.”
Getting the Bowl Rolling: Kurt Harz Explains Models and Options
“I don’t think it’s moving fast enough,” chuckles Kurt Harz, VP, capital sales, Americas, for Brunswick Bowling and Billiards when asked about the growing trend of cinemas adding other forms of recreation to their venues. At the end of July, Brunswick became the bowling provider of choice to Frank Entertainment. “You have a visionary in Bruce Frank who is able to see both sides of the business and how you can meld these businesses together, really enhancing the overall guest experience.”
This is exactly what our new exclusive series is all about. Over the next eight to ten months, Film Journal International will feature prime examples of cinemas bringing not only bowling, bars and burgers into their movie mix, but also mini-golf and maximum sports, with action and adventure games, as well as rock ’n’ roll and racing simulators. While this author has coined the name Cinema Entertainment Center (CEC, for short), our friends at Paradigm Design and National Commercial Builders have been advocating the following definition for the Multi-Venue Entertainment Complexes (MECs) that they are offering in a full-service package. “These complexes are a combination facility bringing together: Bowling, Restaurants, Bars, Laser Tag, Arcades, Billiards, Theatres, and Live Entertainment.”
In addition to profiles and case studies, along with the occasional report on available attractions and technology, we will also have more expert advice at the ready. Beginning this month, we count on Kurt Harz to define some additional terminology for us.
For the last 40 to 50 years, the classic “Bowling League” business has enjoyed great success, he says. “The market for these traditional bowling centers continues to shrink, however, because these kinds of venues are no longer matching what today’s consumers want in the way of hospitality, entertainment and recreation. On the other hand, there is a renaissance taking place with new center development and most of that happens in emerging business models that we refer to as ‘Hybrid’ venues and our ‘Boutique’ business.” A Hybrid under one roof offers two distinct types of bowling and entertainment—one geared towards families and appropriately categorized as “Family Entertainment Center” (FEC) and “the other for the adult and more entertainment-oriented side of the business. While most bowling FECs have a food and beverage strategy that is step or two below what we see the theatre industry striving for,” the Boutique model has a smaller bowling venue “where upgraded food and beverage offerings become the real locomotive, with the added ability to be driving an event business that is not common for a traditional bowling operation.” In either one of these cases, Harz has observed, “the core makeup is a casual entertainment and recreational customer, a younger demographic looking for a full night of entertainment.”
And movie theatres certainly fully support that.