Richard Pink stands in the center of the vast carpeted lobby of the Pacific Theatre megaplex in Chatsworth. But he's not here to see the movie; he's here to watch people eat.
For the first time since Richard's parents, Paul and Betty, set up a pushcart near the corner of La Brea and Melrose avenues 59 years ago, the Pink family is selling its coveted classic 10-inch chili dogs out of a new location--Pacific's new Winnetka 20.
While fumbling with one of the planet's sloppiest foods in a darkened theater might strike some as, well, foolish, Winnetka customers have been buying up franks at a pace three to five times the rate of Pacific's Pink's-less theaters, including a whopping 5,500 in the first weekend. "We felt that this would work because there is a real tie-in between Pink's and Hollywood," says Pink, a real estate lawyer who co-owns the business with sister Beverly Wolfe.
The La Brea stand is such a landmark that eating a Pink's anywhere else, particularly in a movie theater, is an odd, dislocating experience. "We didn't try to re-create the ambience of the original," says Kate Baker, Pacific vice president of marketing. But, "we are using the same ingredients, and we are trying very hard to meet the same exacting standards."
Despite rigorous quality control, including a veteran Pink's chef at the scene and a lecture to staff about Pink's distinguished history, the Chatsworth dog does not quite live up to the high standards of the original. The custom Hoffy has the same snappy flavor and firm texture and the chili is rich and authentic, but the dog isn't warm enough and the bun lacks that soft, steamy quality. Cheese isn't an option at the theater nor are the life-threatening jalapenos served in buckets at the original. The movie theater chili dogs, at $3.50, also cost about a dollar more.
Winnetka is a test case for the marriage between Pink's and Pacific, and Pink vows that the new location will be "as good, if not better, than the original" once the kinks are worked out.
"It's a real challenge to get people to re-create a Pink's dog exactly," he says. "It takes time, and the people up front are still in the process of learning."