By James Heffernan -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas made its long-awaited debut at Kernstown Commons on Monday.
Nick Nerangis Sr., a partner in the local franchise group N/L Entertainment LLC, hung the theater's first movie poster, "Where the Wild Things Are," during a brief ceremony outside the 38,000-square-foot facility while employees prepared for a full day of showings.
The cinema-eatery, the Alamo chain's first location outside the state of Texas, offers a unique twist on "dinner and a movie," combining first-run films and specialty programming on eight big screens with a full-service restaurant.
Once seated, movie patrons can order from an extensive menu, including appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, salads, milkshakes, popcorn, homemade pizza and more than 20 varieties of beer on tap. Bench-style tables are positioned between each row of stadium seats, allowing the wait staff to serve food without distraction. Customers can continue to order throughout the movie by writing their request on a slip of paper and attaching it to the table clip.
Since most patrons will choose to eat during their Alamo experience, the theater carefully tracks advance ticket sales and encourages guests to arrive at least half an hour before a show, Nerangis said.
But Alamo patrons need not purchase a movie ticket to enjoy the fare. The bar is open to the public during business hours, and the lobby features tabletop and sofa seating.
Nerangis and his children -- sons Nick Jr. and Steve, and daughter Lisa Limoges, who discovered the chain while working in Dallas -- believe the concept will take hold in Winchester.
"We think it's a great market for this concept and we're eager to show local residents what it's all about," Steve Nerangis said.
Derek Dodd, who helped bring the 130-member Winchester staff up to speed last week as director of training for Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in Austin, Texas, predicts the Winchester location will be a big draw, even in a down economy.
"The movie industry, in general, has done well, and we offer a truly unique experience," Dodd said.
Ticket prices are on par with, and in some cases lower than, other area theaters, Nick Nerangis Sr. said.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, with nine locations, had its best year ever in 2008, and the company is targeting expansion along the East Coast and in the Midwest.
First-run movies are Alamo's mainstay, but special events have made the chain a fan favorite.
The franchise offers themed "feast" events that pair a film with a particular menu. Past events have included a showing of "The Godfather" with an Italian dinner and a shrimp feast during "Forrest Gump." Other popular Alamo events include film festivals, sporting events and sing-alongs that encourage audience participation.
The local Alamo will host an "eco-festival" next month, sponsored by First Bank, that will promote awareness of environmentally friendly practices, according to John Norton, the bank's senior vice president of marketing.
The theater's digital and 3-D projection screens also can be used for business conferences and class reunions, Steve Nerangis said.
"It's exciting," he said. "We think we've got a hit on our hands."