By Lisa Buie, Times staff writer
In print: Thursday, September 4, 2008
WESLEY CHAPEL — The movie posters are up, with titles that include Ghost Town and How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.
But executives for the Grove 16 theater and its much touted Cinebistro restaurant and bar doubt those movie titles will be omens when central Pasco’s first movie house has its grand opening mid-September.
“On a good day this is adult Disneyland,” said Alan Lake, a veteran executive chef overseeing the startup of the Pasco theater at the Grove shopping center at County Road 54 and Interstate 75. Lake’s Web site lists such A-list celebrities as Bono and the Edge, George Harrison, Julian Lennon, Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen as among those who have eaten his cuisine.
Lake and Cobb executives gave media tours of the 86,000 square foot theater, which boasts 16 screens of varying sizes, including four that are about 60 feet wide by 30 feet high.
“About three stories tall,” said Jeremy Welman, chief operating officer for Cobb Theatres.
The theaters also feature Dolby 7.1 sound, which is a step higher than what most cinemas now offer, he said. It also offers seats four inches wider than the industry standard.
But the big draw is expected to be the Cinebistro, a restaurant that features a full gourmet menu and bar. The restaurant, which also offers a kids’ menu, is accessible to all moviegoers as well as the public.
Patrons ages 21 and older who want to combine a meal with the movie can pay about $5 more for a plush leather seat in the theater’s upper level, called the loge. Loge seating allows them to buy food and drinks, including beer, wine and cocktails, all served to them before the film begins.
“There won’t be any nachos and squeeze cheese up here,” joked Welman.
The Alabama-based company originally planned to open the Pasco location as a traditional theater but the success of the original Cinebistro in Miami, which opened last year, has prompted them to open more. Similar concepts are set to open in Daytona Beach, Atlanta, Colorado and Maryland.
Executives could have been forced to scuttle those plans for Wesley Chapel after members of a nearby church opposed the company’s efforts to seek a waiver from county rules banning alcohol sales at establishments less than 1,000 feet from a church, school or public park. After listening to representatives from both sides, county commissioners sided with the company, which is providing 150 jobs. Most of those have been filled after job fairs that drew about 1,200 people.
Welman stresses that it’s not all about the booze but about providing a convenient venue for time-pressed customers.
“People are busy,” he said. “It’s really an integrated experience.”
It’s also a way to compete with home theater systems, theme parks, sports, and everything else vying for people’s entertainment dollars as well as to extend its marketing reach past the traditional 12 to 25 age group.
Yet executives say they still want to be family friendly. The theater also offers traditional concessions such as popcorn, candy, and yes, nachos and squeeze cheese. But instead of standing in line while workers fetch items, patrons help themselves cafeteria-style and pay at a register.
A birthday party room is also available for booking, and the theater also provides family rest rooms in addition to those segregated by gender.
Executives postponed the opening from summer to fall, but said that will allow them to tweak the operation.
CEO Robert Cobb, a low-key Alabamian who introduces himself as “Bobby,” said its imperative for the theater industry to offer more than it used to in today’s competitive climate.
Executives say they aren’t worried about opening in a tough economy.
“We go to the movies to escape from life, and that’s one of the things that helps us,” Welman said.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.