Going to the movies isn't what it used to be. Home theaters offer far more than your parents or grandparents could have imagined, so luring the consumer out of the house is now a high-stakes game, with Dallas-Fort Worth leading the way.
The name of this new frontier? They call it eatertainment.
Come July 30, Studio Movie Grill will expand into The Colony, giving it nine locations in North Texas and 11 in the state. The Colony will be its 22nd location nationwide, with a 23rd soon to open in Simi Valley, Calif.
Brian Schultz, the CEO and founder of Dallas-based Studio Movie Grill, says the growth of his company plus an engaging array of competitors make Dallas-Fort Worth "the movie grill capital" of the country.
"No question," says Schultz, 46, who launched his concept at the Granada Theater on Lower Greenville in 1993. Studio Movie Grill itself began in 1998 in Addison.
Back then, eatertainment was in its infancy. But it has definitely taken off in recent years: His competitors in North Texas include Dallas-based Movie Tavern, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Richardson (a chain that will soon open on South Lamar Street in Dallas), Look Cinemas in Addison, iPic Theaters at the Village in Fairview, Venetian Cinemas in Carrollton and the AMC Grapevine Mills 30 with Dine-In Theatres.
Soon, Schultz will open a Studio Movie Grill in "a gentrifying neighborhood" in South Philadelphia, giving his company a coast-to-coast presence.
Kathryn Arnold, a producer, entertainment consultant and movie industry expert, says the iPic chain, like Studio Movie Grill, is enhancing the moviegoing experience for reasons that she contends underscore a fast-growing national trend.
"The reason why it's happening is that theaters are looking for ways to lure the consumer out of the home and into the movie theater," says Arnold, whose website is theentertainmentexpert.com. "Prices are expensive, parking may be a problem, so now you have to have a moviegoing experience that exceeds anything you can get at home. And each theater has to differentiate itself from other theaters by offering what I call an ultra-experience."
At the moment, Schultz says, Dallas-Fort Worth is far ahead of the nation in spearheading eatertainment.
"Nationwide," he adds, "there's still a lot of what we call green field. Texas has by far the highest concentration of theater dining concepts. I think it's good for the industry."
As someone raised in Southern California, Schultz says he understands "how and why" The Colony is a good location. Frisco, West Plano, The Colony - it's starting to feel and look like the suburban sprawl of L.A. in an earlier era.
"Texas has by far the highest concentration of theater dining concepts."
"That's where all the growth is going," he says, although he admits being inspired to expand to The Colony somewhat by accident.
"I'm a cyclist," he says. "I was riding up there. I was frustrated because I used to ride up there, and there was never any traffic. And it was absolutely getting packed. I hadn't been up there in a while.
"And then I started seeing some of the other concepts, such as TopGolf and other restaurants, so I dug in a bit further. It's really the perfect spacing away from Plano," where Schultz is renovating the location near West Park Boulevard and Preston Road, hoping to make it his flagship.
West Plano will soon close for four weeks "to do the heavy conversion, and then four weeks after The Colony opens, we're going to relaunch with a grand reopening for the Plano location."
The Studio Movie Grill in The Colony will be in the Lewisville Towne Crossing complex at 4800 State Highway 121. The theater will occupy 48,870 square feet with 11 auditoriums.
Schultz says the company is partnering with Brad Miller of Film-Tech, which promises Christie and Dolby equipment and what's known as Masterimage's Clarity 3D. Each auditorium will feature what the company's official release dubs "VIP stadium seating and luxury, leather lounge chairs with built-in tabletops and push-for-service call buttons."
Schultz says it's part of the "dinner, drinks and a movie" concept that his chain helped pioneer. La-Z-Boy recliners are, he says, an increasingly popular addition, with other chains, such as AMC, going to those as well. Some theaters offer blankets.
"You now have to provide something as comfortable as what you would get at someone's house," he says.