Drive-in movies may seem like a charming anachronism touted by our grandparents as a near-forgotten feature of the Good Old Days. But, Coyote Drive-In wants a chance to change your mind. With advanced digital technology and a finger on the local pulse, the first-run outdoor movie theater opens its newest location tonight, Oct. 28, in Lewisville, with an eye toward pulling the industry howling into the future.
Coyote Drive-In planted its first four-screen complex in Fort Worth's Panther Island area in 2013, and it opened a second location in Leeds, Alabama, in the spring. The new spot in northern D-FW features five screens, with plans to open a sixth next year, as well as indoor-outdoor air-conditioned dining areas, expanded menu items and an upgraded projection equipment.
Managing partners have paid meticulous attention to the details that work well in Fort Worth and made nimble tweaks for an ever-improving movie-going experience.
How It Works
The concept of driving up to a big screen to watch a movie might seem obvious, but building a safe and optimal environment for a large amount of nightly visitors is both an art and a science.
The theater itself is located right off of the Sam Rayburn Tollway, a breezy 20-ish minute drive for North Texans who live near North Central Expressway, and even closer for those clustered along the Dallas North Tollway. It is situated in a rapidly developing area -- not far, for example, from the massive Nebraska Furniture Mart that opened in 2015 -- but once you've turned off the highway, the drive-in is nestled among wide open expanses of rural farmland, feeling very far from civilization -- in a good way.
Partner Glenn Solomon says the location was ideal for a number of reasons, one being that seemingly remote geography. "We're in a dark area with not a lot of ambient light," he says.
That's a major selling point for outdoor theater developers. On top of that, Coyote Drive-In Lewisville sits on 35 acres, 10 of which are floodplain. While the surrounding area is certain to continue its lighting-fast growth, the land circumventing the theater is likely to remain relatively undeveloped, or at least less so.
Upon entering the Coyote Drive-In complex, cars queue in one of six lanes that stretch 500 feet from the main road, meaning there is a lot of space for orderly ticket sales. Once you've bought tickets or redeemed tickets purchased in advance online, you simply follow signs pointing to the correct parking lot.
Parking is on a first-come-first-served basis; but, even if you don't get a front-row spot, individual spaces contained raised berms, a hallmark of the traditional drive-in experience, to allow drivers to angle the front end for their windshield's particular dimensions.
Sound is broadcast over FM radio frequencies, utilizing modern vehicle technology rather than relying on old-school speaker systems. Don't have a working radio? Want to ride up on your bike? No problem. Small radios are available to rent for a small fee, and stand up speakers are placed under each screen to service a small, surrounding grassy area where you can sit on picnic blankets or in lawn chairs.
In keeping with tradition, every screening is a double feature -- that's two current, full-length feature films -- with a 15 minute intermission. General admission tickets are $8 for ages 12 and over, $6 for children 5-11 and free for children under 4 years-old, significantly lower than competing first-run theaters, which tend to average around $11-plus for adults.
With ticket prices so low, Coyote focuses a substantial amount of its attention to concessions and the indoor-outdoor restaurant, much more on that later, and outside food and drink is not allowed. That may seem like a difficult, if not impossible, rule to enforce, but Solomon says patrons in Fort Worth and Alabama have seen the unique value of the drive-in experience as a whole and care about being good patrons.
"It's an entire evening out," he says.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m., seven days per week.
The Coyote Drive-In Experience
Picture this: It's a magical night with just the right breeze and stars twinkling through the clear, dark sky. Now, imagine it's July in Texas, and you start sweating through your shirt just thinking about it. Or, it's January, and the nasty weather has you pent-up on the sofa for weeks on end. Coyote Drive-In boasts a family-focused entertainment solution for almost any situation.
A social night out under the stars:
Each Coyote Drive-In screen is surrounded by a patch of grass about 100 feet wide and 50-60 feet deep, where patrons can enjoy spreading out picnic blankets or lawn chairs. Children and dogs on leashes romp while parents relax with a craft beer. Want to remark on an awesome scene in the movie you're watching? You're welcome to.
"If you've ever been to a movie-in-the-park, it's a very different experience from a cold, dark indoor theater," says Chief Operations Officer Steve Winn. "You can have a conversation without disrupting those around you; kids can toss a Frisbee if they get restless."
At Coyote Drive-In, there's freedom to roam. That extends to the restaurant's outdoor patio area; you can see the big screens from its picnic tables and Adirondack chairs, and there's a playground with a full jungle gym for children to stretch out in a safe, well-lit, centralized area.
Occasionally, Coyote Drive-In features special screenings like college football games or NASCAR races, and the vibe can feel like a family-friendly tailgate or barbecue.
Climate controlled privacy:
Just want to watch a movie in peace and quiet? Those who choose to view from inside their car are welcome to keep the engine running, so long as it doesn't disturb others, on nights when the weather isn't cooperating. You can eat and even bring beer and wine out to your car, and lots and screens are designed to ensure a good view from every space.
That's part of what makes Coyote Drive-In a versatile experience for families. Have a small child or baby? No need for a sitter. There will be no shushing from strangers if the little one cries mid-movie.
Another factor: Safety. Ground crews circulate the lots on golf carts to help out with customer questions or minor issues like, for instance, if a patron accidentally leaves on his headlights, unintentionally disrupting others, or if a driver's music is too loud.
There are also visible crews of uniformed security officers and uniformed police officers constantly patrolling the grounds. They help with traffic direction and proactively head off any potentially dangerous or disruptive situation well before it starts.
"The officers keep a very high profile and have a big visible presence," Winn says. "It shows everyone that this is a managed facility."
Upgraded dining options:
Solomon says the original Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth was inspired in design by the Katy Trail Ice House, and that outdoorsy, craft beer vibe extends to the new location, with a few major differences.
While Fort Worth's concession area is exclusively open-air, Lewisville features a climate-controlled indoor restaurant with a full-service kitchen. It will sell traditional movie treats like popcorn and candy, as well as burgers, hot dogs and nachos, like its sister location.
"I like to call it 'comfort grill food,'" Winn says. "It's the type of things people like in an outdoor environment like a picnic or block party, very laid back."
But, the new space with its expanded kitchen will also feature at least one major menu upgrade: Beginning next week, after a specialty oven is installed, Coyote Drive-In Lewisville will serve scratch pizzas, made to order with fresh ingredients and in-house mixed dough.
With more restaurant-quality dishes, customers might feel less enthusiastic about dining behind the wheel. Those who are hungry during their movie can see screens from the restaurant and can rent small radios for sound. Smart planners will come early to eat beforehand and enjoy live acoustic music from local singer-songwriters on an outdoor stage every Friday and Saturday night.
Including the outdoor beer garden patio, the restaurant can seat about 500 at full capacity.
Speaking of beer, both of Coyote Drive-In's Texas locations feature drinks from local craft breweries, in addition to wine and wine-based margaritas. Not into alcohol? Coyote Drive-In Lewisville is one of the first establishments in the country to feature Pepsi Spire 5.0 fountains with intuitive, digital touch-screen technology that allows customers to create over 100 soda combinations. Want a shot of vanilla or lime in your cola? You got it.
Drive-ins themselves may be a cultural throwback, but Winn says Coyote Drive-In has outfitted its new locations with the best projection and screen technology on the market.
In the old days, projected images on drive-in screens tended to get very dark around the edges, affecting the movie's clarity. When they added the second location in Leeds, Alabama, this year, technology had progressed to the degree that drive-in projection no longer lost that quality, and they were able to install that same new equipment in Lewisville.
Because most patrons will be viewing from a minimum of 100-500 feet away and to combat ambient light characteristic of outdoor venues, screens are 76 feet wide, 35 feet tall and 20 feet off of the ground to ensure a good view from a variety of vantage points across the property. Screens are wrapped in a special material that causes light to bounce back at a 40 percent higher rate than a regular movie screen, and projectors -- all of which are situated in a central room above the restaurant -- focus on maximum brightness.
"It's the most powerful projector and largest bulb they make," Solomon says. "And, because it is digital technology, there's no difference in brightness between the center of the screen and the edges."
Coyote Drive-In opens at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 28.
See what's playing or purchase tickets at coyotedrive-in.com/lewisville.