Let there be Lux: New Showcase concept combines fine food and film

“My goal was always the same,” Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements, assures, namely “to create the ultimate luxury experience and entertainment destination for moviegoing. While we do get better each and every time, I always believe that ‘as good as this is, you also have to realize there is something yet to come.’ So we are never complacent and are always trying to build upon making that experience better.”

Case in point is the “Cinema de Lux” concept that Redstone pioneered back in 2001 with the opening of what was then called “The Bridge” at Howard Hughes Center Promenade in West Los Angeles (now Cinemark/Rave 18 + IMAX). This publication has exclusively chronicled the continuing development of this unique cinematic offering, both as part of our long-running “ Dinner at the Movies” series and the annual “Class of the Year” design and construction review.

Over the years, Cinema de Lux not only expanded to many more locations, it also added in-lobby and in-theatre casual dining and has moved the luxurious offerings from dedicated “Directors Halls” and lounges up and along to “Lux Level” experiences that rise above it all. The latest incarnation has now evolved into an all-luxurious venue that offers guests—with “SuperLux” and “LuxLite” seating and services—not one but two options for being pampered inside the same auditorium. Not to mention the fully licensed and well-stocked bar in the wood-clad and comfortably seated lobby-lounge and Davio’s Cucina, the venue’s casually elegant 250-seat restaurant, presenting the “award-winning cuisine” of one of the Boston region’s best-known dining brands.

At the core, however, Showcase SuperLux at The Street in Chestnut Hills, Newton, Mass. features six auditoriums that, ranging from to 80 to just over 100 luxury seats, might be intimate in style and capacities but are certainly extra-large on screens, seats and service options.

Film Journal International spoke with Shari Redstone on the occasion of the May 30 friends-and-industry launch of her latest Showcase creation. The execution of the concept has certainly changed, but “the theme is the same,” she confirms. “Nothing has changed in my approach to moviegoing. I have always believed that while we can’t control what’s on the screen, we can control the experience that people have in our theatres. That’s where we need to focus and that’s where we need to put our energy. That’s where we need to put our investment dollars. I know I’m boring, I sound like a broken record,” Redstone laughs, “but I take that philosophy and continue to go with it as the times change.”

About the reason, she mentions how “people have more and more options today… So we have to give them a compelling reason to go to the movies. I have always believed that and that has always been my mission. Whether there have been changes in technology or changes in the amenities that we can provide, I always try to bring the latest and greatest to everything that we do.”

In terms of cinema technology, at Showcase SuperLux “the greatest” means Sony 4K digital projection and accessibility devices for captioning, descriptive video and assisted listening; RealD 3D as well as Dolby Surround 7.1. Amenities include paperless and all-reserved ticketing via MovieTickets.com, mobile devices and touch-screen kiosks running on Radiant software. Equally touchable interactive displays offer large-scale movie information including trailers as well as live newsfeeds, real-time weather, gift card purchases, transportation services and the like. With several dedicated apps in development that will make valet parking even more convenient and with ideas in the works that should facilitate concession pre-orders waiting at your seat, SuperLux “will continue to offer an even higher level of technology, service and comfort,” Redstone promises.

Once inside the beautifully color-blended auditoriums that—like the entry ways and lobby—feature elegant wall coverings and striking, relief-like raised carpeting, other noteworthy details include a softly changing screen animation that adds textured light and movement to an otherwise blank or advertising-adorned view. SuperLux patrons can order their food and beverages and movie snacks (unlimited popcorn is complimentary) from iPad menus and via personal mobile devices. Always-on call buttons powered by PlexCall facilitate seat-side service during the film. Another button adjusts the plush and extra-wide recliners manufactured by VIP Seating and fully raises their extended footrests. While there are differences in the menu items on offer in the LuxLite section of the auditorium, the slightly smaller recliners offer manual adjustment. At-the-seat service ends with showtime and different age restrictions apply.

In addition to creating two price points and various service options, “we wanted to have two areas inside the theatre that would create different experiences,” Redstone says about establishing a 21-and-older policy for SuperLux, “especially in the evenings when adults who are going out may not want to be surrounded by children. Even though I love children more than anything in the world,” she interjects, “I still recognize there might be a different experience that adults want that doesn’t include a lot of children.”

LuxLite menu offerings are “pretty much the same as what we have always offered in our Lux Level,” Redstone further distinguishes the concepts. On everything else, however, “LuxLite is ‘lite’ when compared to SuperLux only, but very much Lux on steroids when compared to the current Lux Level. And SuperLux is Lux Level exponentially on steroids,” she adds. “SuperLux takes our Lux Level to a whole new level, if you will.”

Redstone decided Chestnut Hill to be right place at the right time to elevate the moviegoing experience by including the SuperLux Lounge and partnering with a top restaurateur. Davio’s Cucina, which is operated by National Amusements under a licensing agreement, “brings a unique eating experience to the venue,” she opines. “In most of our theatres, I have to be honest, people go to our restaurants in conjunction with going to the movies. Here, I wanted to create a place where people not only go before or after the movie, but actually come in even when they are not going to see a film. I wanted to have a very distinct and compelling offering that was different from what we normally do in our theatres.”
“We were very limited on the available space,” she attests about the challenge. “Even without including Davio’s, the most screens that we could’ve had is seven. If I could have put 14, 15 screens in that location, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Because, generally, I do believe for a successful theatre you need more than six or seven screens.” That said, “I wanted National to be in Chestnut Hill, because it’s sort of my home town. Boston is our home market and I love working with [developer] Jeremy Sclar, who is our partner at Legacy Place as well as in Millbury, Massachusetts.”

Davio’s already has a restaurant at Patriot Place in Foxboro, where Showcase operates anotherCinema de Lux and Showcase Live. Faced with “an opportunity that I could not pass up, I really took a look at that space and said: How can we use this, given the limitations, and create a really unique moviegoing experience where people would want to be, not just to see a movie but to also hang out? That’s where I came up with the idea…to bring in a great restaurant brand that has a following and identity of its own. Davio’s is one of my favorite restaurants in Boston. Steve [DiFillippo] is a great guy and wonderful owner who I have come to know well over the years. So when I was playing around with the idea of including a self-sustaining restaurant, the first person I called was Steve. We met the next morning and I would say within less than 24 hours of my thinking that this would be an idea worth exploring, we had agreed in concept to do this deal. It is unique for both of us because Steve’s never had a partner, and we’ve never really gone forward with a partner.”

During her welcoming speech celebrating the results of that deal, Redstone asked her guests, “There are seven nights a week and only six screens here. So what are you going to do on the seventh night? You can go to Davio’s.” While this was obviously said in jest, it also reflects the underlying strategy. “I don’t want to say these are two separate businesses within the same destination, because they are integrated and they work well together. It is another source of revenue that is independent of the moviegoing experience even though it works well in conjunction with it. We used to build theatres to get people in and out efficiently,” Redstone adds, providing additional perspective. “Now our goal is to build theatres to get people to stay there. The wonderful thing about going to the movies is that there is a lot to talk about. You want to talk to your friends before and after the movie. Sometimes even during the movie, though we really don’t encourage that,” she chuckles. “We are trying to create that kind of venue where people will come and stay for a while. Like I often say, your home away from home. We want to offer different experiences that will bring people back to this destination. Frankly, we are very happy if people come in and eat at Davio’s, if they hang out and enjoy a drink at our lobby bar, or if they come to watch a movie. They can do all three, of course, and enjoy the menus at SuperLux and LuxLite…”

In closing, this author wanted to know what Ms. Redstone’s grandfather and company founder, Michael, would think about these many options that are available today. The “Cinema de Lux” offerings at Showcase have surely come a long way from what was offered at the drive-in cafeterias back in 1936. “I love that you asked that question. I hope that he would say, ‘Well, Shari, you have done good.’ When we opened Patriot Place, I went with my uncle, who unfortunately has since passed away. He used to run the concession stands in our business with my grandfather even before my father came into the company,” she explains. “Just to watch him go through that theatre and to have him see how far we have come from candy and soda and popcorn… How he made me feel about what we’ve done and where we have taken the business: I wish that would be what my grandfather would be feeling and saying. When it is cloudy over Legacy Place, I think I see my grandfather up there smiling down. So, on a sunny day, he will be smiling at all of us at Chestnut Hill." 

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