Chew on this, movie lovers: The Malco Ridgeway Four is being “rebranded” as the Malco Ridgeway Cinema Grill.
The name change after 36 years of business suggests that Malco officials want customers to associate their “art” movie house with quality food as well as quality films.
The addition of a kitchen with a deep fryer and a grill for burgers, panini, grilled chicken salads and other made-to-order items will complete an almost total makeover of the 1977 movie house, from the restrooms to the auditoriums to the concession stand.
The name change was initiated this week, without fanfare, on the malco.com website, but has yet to appear in newspaper advertisements or other sources. In keeping with the low-key design of the businesses along the theater’s Ridge Lake Boulevard address in East Memphis, the Ridgeway, unlike other movie houses, has no marquee or sign on the building, although one may be added to herald the name change.
In recent years, the Ridgeway has been a destination movie house for adult film fans. Its remodeled auditoriums emphasize comfort, and its feature film lineup is aimed at mature or discriminating moviegoers. Recent Ridgeway successes have included “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and the current hits “Mud” and “The Great Gatsby.”
Beginning in late 2011, the theater’s four auditoriums were reworked to increase the size and comfort of the seats, reducing potential audience size from about 300 to 175 people per screen. The wide armrests and improved cup holders were designed to accommodate food, in anticipation of the “Cinema Grill” effort.
“We took out half the seats and we’re probably doing twice the business,” said Jimmy Tashie, executive vice president with Malco Theaters Inc., which operates 30 cinemas in five states. He said the Ridgeway ‘s “loyal clientele” of customers “don’t want to fool with the parking and the kids” and the other distractions of such blockbuster-oriented multiplexes as the Paradiso and the Cordova Cinema.
Tashie said he hopes the new kitchen will be “fully operational” within a week. He declined to put a price on the cost of the remodeling but acknowledged it was expensive and elaborate, complicating the business not just with additional safety and health regulations but with the hiring or training of employees as cooks.
The new kitchen will enable the Ridgeway to expand a menu that already includes import beer and wine, plus sandwiches, toasted ravioli, pizza and other items provided, in a sort of catering arrangement, by Ciao Bella, an East Memphis restaurant owned by David Tashie, Jimmy Tashie’s son, and cousin Judd Tashie.
The Ridgeway’s renewed emphasis on food acknowledges that movie theater owners make most of their profits at the concession stand.
According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney magazine, about 85 percent of each dollar spent on food and drink at the movies goes to the theater owner, accounting for some 40 percent of a cinema’s profits. Ticket revenues, in comparison, are split at widely varying levels between theater owners and movie distributors.
“There would be no movie theater without a concession stand,” Tashie said, adding that most venues that attract crowds, from FedExForum to AutoZone Park, also rely on food and drink sales to augment ticket revenues. “At the same time, people are not coming to the theater primarily to eat; they’re coming to look at a movie. Our main goal is to put a movie on the screen that people like.”
He said prices for the new menu items have yet to be decided, but they would be “competitive” with similar items at local restaurants.