Alamo Drafthouse: Tarrant County prepares for first take of quirky, successful Austin movie chain

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Alamo Drafthouse openings

North Richland Hills – April 2019

Frisco – 2020

Denton – Summer 2018

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Richardson, Dallas and Irving locations are currently open

Bill C. DiGaetano will never forget his first visit to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin nearly two decades ago. It changed his life.

As an avid film buff, DiGaetano was wowed by the choices of films as well as food and drinks, including beer, served inside the theater. And then there were the extras such as retrospectives of films and stars, live entertainment and other touches that made moving-going more like a gala befitting a city renowned for its quirkiness than a quick diversion.

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“It was the first time I’d ever been to a theater like that,” he recalled. “It was not just a cinema eatery, but something really unique and something that event-ized every kind of film that they did.”

DiGaetano completed his studies at St. Edward’s University and earned a degree in marketing. He went to work in marketing and sales “and was very bored.” So at age 25, he decided to do something he always wanted to do: he enlisted in the Army.

After two years of training, he became a Green Beret. He was deployed to Afghanistan for the first time in 2007. Just before he was about to be deployed for a second tour in 2008, he learned that his wife Jenny was pregnant with their first child.

The news got him thinking about the future and returning to the business world. As luck would have it, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema had begun franchising and DiGaetano couldn’t stop thinking about a future with the brand.

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After he returned to the United States, DiGaetano put together a business plan and began lining up investors to buy the rights to Alamo for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“And to kind of double-check my work, I had my father, who was president of Wilsonart International, look at the business plan,” he said. “My intention was just for him to take a look. He had been in the business world for 35 years and ran a very large corporation.”

To his surprise, his father, Bill D. DiGaetano, did more than give the plan a thumbs up. He offered to join his son – an opportunity to leave out the investors and make the Alamo franchise a family business. It was an offer the son couldn’t refuse.

The DiGaetano family hails from Temple, headquarters of Wilsonart International, manufacturer of solid work surfaces such as laminate and quartz.

After college, the younger DiGaetano he settled in Austin. He never lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area until the deal was made for the Alamo franchise rights for the area.

It was amazing opportunity because the sprawling DFW area offered plenty of room for growth and was home to many University of Texas grads – as well as grads of other colleges such as St. Edward’s – who were familiar with the Alamo brand.

“I think there’s a lot of authentic and incredible areas within the Metroplex,” he said. “I think the best thing about the brand is that we’ve kind of become that neighborhood theater. We want to take on the personality of the area … and those great things that make areas special, whether that’s Austin or Richardson or Brooklyn, New York.”

As the locations continue to expand, the Dallas-Fort Worth area will soon have more Alamo Drafthouse locations than the chain’s Austin hometown.

As chief operations officer, the younger DiGaetano wasted little time relocating his family, which now includes two children, and moving ahead with developing and opening theaters that follow the footprint of the first Alamo opened by Tim and Karrie League in a repurposed warehouse in Austin in 1997.

The first DFW Alamo Drafthouse opened in Richardson in 2013. Since then, the DiGaetanos have opened new theaters near downtown Dallas and in Lake Highlands and Las Colinas. This year, an Alamo is set to open in Denton and another in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in Minnesota, where the DiGaetano family also owns franchise rights.

In March, the company announced plans for the first Alamo Drafthouse in Tarrant County. It will be located in North Richland Hills near its borders with Keller and Colleyville. It hopes to draw patrons from across Northeast Tarrant County.

“A movie theater is among the most desired additions to the city by our residents and having an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is even better,” North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino said.

A Northeast Tarrant County site has been on the company radar for nearly six years.

“I am selfishly excited to finally have an Alamo Drafthouse five minutes from my House,” DiGaetano. The younger DiGaetano, 37, and his family live in Colleyville.

Ground has already been broken for the eight-screen cinema at 8380 Davis Blvd. It is expected to open in April 2019. The theater will have more than 950 luxury recliners and an attached full-service bar and restaurant with 32 craft beers on tap. This location will also have an outdoor play area where parents can enjoy a bite to eat and a beer while their kids are playing.

With construction progressing in Denton and North Richland Hills, the company announced plans for another Alamo Drafthouse at The Hub at Frisco Station, a 242-acre mixed-used development on the Dallas North Tollway. The development wraps around The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters and practice facility.

This will become the seventh Alamo Drafthouse in North Texas when it opens in 2020. The eight-screen theater will accommodate 1,200 guests and will feature the brand staples such as first-run films, unique programs, quality scratch-made food and a large selection of craft beer.

This Frisco location will introduce Video Vortex, a new Alamo Drafthouse concept that will be the first in Texas and the second in the chain that now has 33 locations and more on the way.

The Video Vortex bar reimagines the classic video rental store with free movie rentals, themed cocktails and 32 local draft beers on tap. Along with Blu-ray and DVD titles, the rental collection will have rare VHS tapes and genre releases, including many titles never released on digital formats. Movie-related merchandise, games, toys, posters and vinyl record releases are for sale.

“Alamo Drafthouse is one of the nation’s most innovate entertainment brands and we couldn’t be more pleased to have Alamo as the anchor for The Hub at Frisco Station,” Mike Berry, president of Hillwood, said in a statement. Hillwood is developing Frisco Station, which features The Hub as its entertainment piece.

The younger DiGaetano said he never imagined he would be juggling so many projects at one time.

“It was somewhat accidental,” DiGaetano said. “We were hoping and trying to get Lake Highlands and Las Colinas opened last year. And this year was supposed to be Denton and our Minnesota location.

“Due to the way constructions works, they all kind of came together within five to six months of each other,” he said.

While most of the DFW Alamo theaters are new buildings, some are retrofits, which can be less costly but more complex and time-consuming, he said.

“Bill’s worked very hard, and he’s very dedicated,” the elder DiGaetano said. “People love film, and people love good food and people love craft beer. It has appeal for people from age 21 to 70 so it’s done well.”

The younger DiGaetano, who is known for his signature work attire of blue jeans and a flannel shirt, said his theaters have been averaging in the top 25 percent among all the locations in the brand.

On the horizon, the younger DiGaetano sees more growth ahead in North Texas.

“Obviously, Fort Worth is always on our radar and we are working actively to get a deal signed there,” he said. “I would love one in Fort Worth, as would our social media manager, who always has to talk to people about why we’re not there yet.”

With one eye on growth, DiGaetano keeps the other carefully trained on minding the shop.

“You’ve got to deliver quality both in the food and beverages, as well the experience,” he said. “And I think that’s what helped Alamo grow at such a rapid pace – No. 1 is taking care of the guests.”

Alamo shows mostly first-run films but also offer special events that feature classics, arthouse films or a collection from genres such as action films, thrillers and sci-fi flicks. And, of course, the food and beverage offerings help enhance the experience.

The release of Solo, the latest installment in the Star Wars universe of films, is cause for Alamo to pull out all the stops to create the ultimate experience for enjoying the film. Characters dressed as Chewbacca, Darth Vadar and Wookies are just the beginning.

There will be a blue milkshake, Chewbacclava and Wookie cookies.

“And then really fun and tasty menu specials that are kind of a play on words and puns from the universe,” he said. “We want to have a very interactive and a very engaged audience. So we try to find those niches where people who try enjoy films can come and enjoy them with us.”

For a description of attending an Alamo Drafthouse special production, click here.

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