“I’m waiting to blast off,” a tech-focused film festival founder said during a tour of Studio Movie Grill’s downtown Glendale location grand opening on Thursday.
Rows of futuristic-looking recliners — outfitted with cooling cup holders, blue lights and a red button to call a waiter— line the 10 auditoriums of the national dine-in theater chain’s location in the heart of the city’s art and entertainment district.
With the company founded 27 years ago, “I think we have all the details honed in now where we’re really ready to go,” said Studio Movie Grill chief executive Brian Schultz just before the theater at 128 N. Artsakh St. opened its doors to the public.
Offering a newly designed menu and full bar with California tastes in mind — there’s a Super Food Bowl and elevated wine list — patrons can watch first-run blockbusters while dining and drinking at their seats.
Originally, Hollywood types snubbed the concept that they believed would be too disruptive to the viewing experience, according to Lynne McQuaker, a spokeswoman for the theater.
Now, the theater is thriving, Schultz said.
It operates more than 300 screens in 10 states, including the California communities of Monrovia, Simi Valley, Downey, Redlands, Rocklin and Bakersfield.
There’s also competition in the space, including Alamo Drafthouse, which opened a downtown Los Angeles location in July.
Pressure early on “made us a lot better,” said Schultz, who originally hails from Agoura Hills. “We created the concept of ninja servers and got our systems really tight.”
Waiters deftly ducked below the screen as they navigated the aisles at a recent screening of Disney’s “Maleficent” sequel.
According to Schultz, the vast majority of food and drinks ordered by the audience arrives before the main feature begins.
(There are some kinks to work out in the new location. For example, some drinks on the menu don’t fit in either of the seat’s two cup holders.)
Movie theater news has been tumultuous as of late: the 81-year-old, indie-focused Laemmle Theatres went up for sale just months ago and word is streaming giant Netflix is poised to purchase the iconic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
Meanwhile, Studio Movie Grill is in the midst of an expansion, McQuaker said.
“The monkey’s on the back of the theater companies to stay relevant in this world, and I think these guys are doing it,” said Michael Lambert, one of the company’s investors and board members.
People eventually need to put down their phones and enjoy communal experiences, he said.
“That’s kind of our cross to bear,” Schultz agreed. “We’re trying to keep the whole industry relevant, and we’re trying to do that one story at a time.”
Opening a theater in Glendale is a homecoming of sorts for the chain, Schultz said.
When he set out to found the company in 1993, he wanted to base the fledgling business’s operations in the Jewel City.
It’s minutes from several major studios and area residents trek to the theater at about 4 times the national average, Schultz said.
“It’s the community you want to be in when you’re trying to open perspectives,” said Schultz, citing its high concentration of creative types.
Schultz said he came very close to buying the Alex Theatre at that time, but the deal didn’t go through.
Nearly three decades later, the theater is occupying a space that previously housed MGN Five Star Cinema and a Mann Theatres complex. For the past three years, it has been vacant.
The theater is expected to bring 200 jobs to the city, said Darlene Sanchez, assistant director of community development with the city of Glendale.
Working closely with the broker for the property owner, “our main goal was to bring something that would complement the art and entertainment district,” Sanchez said.
“This worked out in just a very delightful way, that we’re getting this type of use here,” she added.