November 2, 2015
New River Oaks Theater 'Like Tesla and Porsche Had a Baby'
A trip to the movies at the new iPic Theaters in River Oaks is kind of like taking a transatlantic flight in first class. With luxurious leather seats that recline nearly flat inside two-person pods, along with courtesy pillows and blankets, the experience is designed to offer more than just a quick flick to kill a couple hours on a rainy afternoon.
"When you look at the history of theaters, you look at the old photos, the thing that was common is that people were getting really dressed up to go to the movies," said Hamid Hashemi, president and CEO of iPic Entertainment. "Going to the movies was truly an event in the old days. It was the main event of the evening, and it was the same when people were flying."
These days, movie theaters and planes tend to be packed with people wearing slouchy, comfortable clothes and sweaters in anticipation of blasting air conditioning. But that's not what Hashemi has in mind for Houston's new theater space, which opens Friday.
"Our goal is to take something that was just an ordinary experience and make it extraordinary," Hashemi said, walking past a display of Prosecco bottles at the concession stand during a recent tour of the theater and its eight auditoriums.
That kind of effort starts with the little things - like the Prosecco - and continues throughout every inch of the theater. Take the seating. The burnt-orange leather seats are 32 inches wide, nearly a foot wider than traditional movie theater seats. The cushioning in the reclining back is divided into three segments with different foam densities in each, to maximize comfort when moviegoers lean back.
"I can't even tell you how many seats we designed and threw away until we really came up with the right design and right comfort level, where you can sit here for 2 1/2 hours and not feel any different than when you walked in," Hashemi said. "In a normal theater, you're not as comfortable. You're fidgeting and you can't stretch your legs. This gives you the freedom to do everything you'd do at your home."
Clunky cup holders are absent from the chairs' arms. Instead, they're stowed in the inner wall of the pod and can flip down when they're needed. Or you can set your drink on the table that swivels between the two seats.
iPic isn't the only theater trying to elevate the movie-going experience. Houston already is home to Sundance Cinemas downtown, which features rocking love seats and a bistro menu, and two Studio Movie Grill locations, where waiters will fill orders for sliders and Tex-Mex staples. Both locations offer customers the ability to select their seat ahead of time, as do several other cinemas in and outside the Loop.
But the pods are the first in town. First in the world, according to Michelle Soudry, a spokeswoman for the theater company. They're sleek and curved, with a cubby in the corner pocket to tuck away a purse and an interior shell that looks like it's made of thousands of perfectly round pebbles. (In reality, it's custom-created plastic.) It's taken about a 1 1/2 years to design the patent-pending pods, and the process has been top secret.
"At the end of the day, you're in a theater for what's on the screen," Hashemi said. "So designing these pods was really a challenge … because if you make them too high on the sides or the back, you'd be blocking the sound or the view for others. So everything had to be calculated. All the angles that you see in this really take the acoustical values of the auditorium into account."
Hence the pebbles. If the walls inside the pod were flat, sound would bounce off them.
Even the waiter-service has been meticulously designed. The "ninja waiters" are dressed in black and trained never to walk in front of a viewer, crouching low next to the pods and whispering while they take orders.
"This is amazing," Soudry said. "This is like Tesla and Porsche had a baby, and I love it."
But like Tesla and Porsche, it comes at a cost.
The theaters boast a limited number of pod seats - Auditorium No. 2, which Hashemi showed off last week, has about 40 - and these "premium plus" seats go for $24 (three times the nation's $8.17 average ticket price) though a discounted rate of $18 on Monday through Thursday is available for customers who sign up for a free membership at the theater. Closer to the screen sit another 30 to 40 pod-free seats, which cost $14 with a discounted rate of $12 for members early in the week. These "premium" seats have the same wide leather construction, but they're closer together and waiter service isn't available.
While premium plus seats come with unlimited popcorn, the rest of the food at iPic is more expensive than typical movie fare. Menu items including $20 filet sliders, $18 artisanal cheeseboards and $10 truffle fries offer something something beyond the Red Vines- and Pepsi-filled concession stands in most multiplexes. But with 11 other locations already running around the country - Houston is the third Texas location, after Austin and Fairview - iPic has been successful attracting an affluent crowd. The typical customer at iPic's other 11 locations is 33 years old, with $150,000 to $180,000 in disposable income.
Hashemi knows the ticket prices and upscale menu may catch people off guard, but he views that as an opportunity to prove himself.
"When we first opened the doors, people said 'Wow, I have to pay $24 for the ticket.' It's a little bit of sticker shock," he said. "But we owe it to you to show you such a great time that when you leave here, you say 'That was worth it.'?"
Link to the original article here.