Studio Movie Grill founder and owner Brian Schultz has never done things by the books.
At a time when dine-in movie concepts were relegated to second-run movie theaters, he took it mainstream, creating a chain of theaters with a full menu of restaurant-quality food and alcohol.
Dallas-based Studio Movie Grill has grown from two locations to 24 theaters located in nine different states. By the end of 2018, Schultz plans to open another eight locations.
This month, the company announced new locations opening in 2017 in Bakersfield, California, Marietta, Georgia and Seminole, Florida. That’s in addition to the theater in Lincoln Square in Arlington, Texas that opened this year.
Even with all that success, Schultz is still unconventional. He doesn’t always go for the most glamorous high-profile locations. The company’s mission statement is: “Opening hearts and minds one story at a time.”
While it might sound corny, the company practices what it preaches, following Schultz’s brand of what he calls “conscious capitalism.”
It led him to open Studio Movie Grills in places like Upper Darby outside Philadelphia and the Chatham neighborhood in Chicago. The Chicago native grew up walking those streets when his father was precinct chair.
“The neighborhood has changed quite a bit,” Schultz said. “The demographics, if you just look at it from a straight business standpoint, are not compelling for a business. I look at it as an early investment in the future of those areas.”
The catalyst for change
It’s the same story with the Upper Darby theater.
The Upper Darby theater came into an area with high unemployment and a lack of economic development. He was familiar with the area from his time as a legislative aide for former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. The Studio Movie Grill, the first in Pennsylvania, was the catalyst that attracted other businesses to the area, Schultz said.
“Not too long after Studio Movie Grill came in, H&M, Gap and other chain stores started coming in and it really turned this whole neighborhood around,” Schultz said. “I am just so proud of our success there. We’re taking that risk and believing in people, in these communities when a lot of other companies have really kind of forgotten about them.”
Thomas Micozzie, mayor of the Upper Darby area, said the 69th Street area where Studio Movie Grill is locating was a popular transit hub in the first half of the 20th Century. As the suburbs grew and the indoor mall gained popularity, the 69th Street corridor took a big hit, he said.
“There was a theater called the 69th Street Movie Theater that they tried to renovate but it got run down and stayed vacant for years,” Micozzie said.
Fast-forward to 2013, Micozzie met Schultz and loved his vision to invest $3 million in the theater.
“Brian has a unique way of capturing the community,” Micozzie said. “During construction we talked a lot. He met with us to understand the community.”
The theater showcases Indian and Muslim films to cater to the diverse community, where more than 80 languages are spoken.
“It’s done a lot for the energy on the block,” Micozzie said. “Whatever model he came up with, he hit a homerun on it.”
Coming to the Southside
Schultz wants to mimic that success with the Chatham theater, which reopened after an extensive remodel in February. Alderman Howard Brookins was offered the theater in Chatham so the community could celebrate the accomplishments of African American filmmakers. The Black World Cinema screen will show films like Hidden Figures, the recent Hollywood movie about the African American women who helped calculate the moon landing. It will also show older movies that appeal to the community.
Chance the Rapper, a Southside native, recently bought all the tickets in the theater so people from the community could go see the film "Get Out" for free. He also rented it out on Oscar night so the community could celebrate the accomplishments of African American filmmakers.
It’s not just about movies, either. The theater will showcase inspirational speakers, documentary films and other special events for the community, Schultz said.
On March 23, the theater hosted a cocktail celebration for the Chicago Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Catering to the community
Lynne McQuaker, senior director, public relations and outreach for Studio Movie Grill, said they learned from their own employees who had family members with special needs that they don’t get to see movies very often.
So, the theaters started hosting free screenings for children with special needs and their siblings. The theater also contributes 5 percent of the proceeds from popular menu items to support nonprofits that help special needs children.
“Anything that we can do to impact the community in a positive way is what we want to do,” McQuaker said. “I think it’s a huge differentiator. I don’t think you’ll find another company doing those kinds of things.”
For Schultz, who tried his hand at politics before founding Studio Movie Grill, it’s never been about opening in the top 10 shopping centers in the country.
“Almost all the locations that we go to there’s something that’s needed in the community,” Schultz said. “In some areas it might be literacy, it might be employment or violence-oriented things. Our focus is going to a place where we can make a difference.”
Follow Studio Movie Grill on Twitter @studiomoviegril
Photos courtesy of Studio Movie Grill.
Editor's note: This article was updated on 3/27/17 to correct an earlier version of this article that incorrectly stated the recent opening of the theater in Lincoln Square in Arlington, Texas. The theater opened this year. As well as wrongly stating Lynne McQuaker's title, she is the senior director, public relations and outreach for Studio Movie Grill. We sincerely regret these errors.