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Monday, April 19, 2021

Cinema-eateries on order for Tarrant County

Here’s a story on Movie Tavern from January 2007.

With the new Studio Movie Grill now open in Arlington and the latest Movie Tavern set to open at the old UA Hulen in Fort Worth in May, Tarrant County will soon be home to the latest, most up-to-date versions of the cinema-eatery concept.

“We think of our latest Studio Movie Grill as more like a movie theater meets boutique hotel,” said Brian Schultz, president of Dallas-based Studio Movie Grill. “This is the first time we’ve built from the ground up and I think it really pays off in what we can offer customers.”

Jeffrey Benson, president and CEO of Dallas-based Movie Tavern, promises much of the same for its refurbishment of the UA Hulen.

“Hulen will likely become our showplace, because we’re doing everything but constructing a new building,” he said.

The nine-screen Studio Movie Grill opened at Matlock Road and Interstate 20, the company’s fourth location, earlier this month. Movie Tavern expects to open its new 10-screen Hulen location in May.

“We’re hoping to be open in time for Spiderman 3,” said Benson. “It’ll be tough, but we’d like to do it.”

Spiderman holds a special place in Benson’s movie going heart.

“We had bought and opened the Ridgmar Movie Tavern in 2002 and we weren’t sure the concept was going to work,” said Benson. “But then Spiderman opened and opened huge, and we knew we were on the right track.”

Both the Movie Tavern and Studio Movie Grill concepts are similar – moviegoers are served food comparable to Chili’s on tables or counters in comfortable seats where they see first-run movies for an adult ticket price of about $7.75, slightly cheaper than the $9 charged by most theatre chains in the area. Food offerings range from gourmet pizza, sandwiches, margarita, wine and coffee.

“It’s the equivalent of serving an entire Chili’s at once,” said Benson. “It’s not easy to do and that’s why we’ve worked hard to install some of the best point-of-sale systems around to be able to take care of our customers.”

Stadium seating keeps blocked views to a minimum, something Benson will be installing at the Hulen location.

“We’ll be spending a lot to retrofit Hulen, probably $2 million, but it will be worth it,” he said.

Benson said the Movie Tavern at Hulen will hardly be recognizable to people familiar with the old UA Hulen. The front of the theater will be the box office on the north of the building. That was added several years ago when the theater expanded from six to 10 screens, but was never used. A lobby will be added to the right of the box office with seating for about 40. The chain will add new screens, interiors and equipment to the theater as well as a kitchen.

With the closing of the Loew’s Theater in Cityview, Movie Tavern and its sister company, Starplex, which is now running the old AMC Theater on Hulen, will have the southwest Fort Worth movie audience to themselves.

“We’ll be playing to different audiences, so I don’t think there’ll be much overlap,” said Benson.

Customers of the two cinema-eatery chains are similar. Both cater to adults and families, not to teenagers, barring unaccompanied minors in the evening.

For Schultz, the more upscale and older customer also wants to see different movies.

“We can get a pretty good audience for an art film that wouldn’t play in the local multiplex,” he said. “We’re really a niche that plays to adults and families.”

Still, animation films remain top draws at for both chains.

“Parents come with their kids and both enjoy the films and the food,” said Benson.

Both chains are in an expansion mode. Studio Movie Grill will open another location in Frisco later this year and Movie Tavern will open in Columbus, Ohio, Oak Brook, Ill. and Denver, Co. later this year as well.

“We’re planning to be a national chain, opening six or seven new theaters over the next five years,” said Movie Tavern’s Benson.

Studio Movie Grill is also looking for more locations, including Fort Worth.

“We’ve come close a few times, but it just hasn’t worked out,” said Schultz.

Benson said developers like the fact that the Movie Tavern serves an upscale customer and also the fact that the theaters don’t require as much parking space as a traditional theatre.

Contact Francis at rfrancis@bizpress.net

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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