Sierra Cinemas expands, adds cafe: Finger food, wine and beer to be available
Special to The Union
Sierra Theaters Vice Presidents:
Michael & Azriel LaMarca
840 East Main St., Grass Valley
What could be better than viewing a great Hollywood movie, sipping a thirst-quenching soda, and savoring buttery popcorn and tasty snacks?
The answer: a wider variety of food, and wine and beer to enjoy it with.
“We surveyed existing clients,” explained Azriel LaMarca, one of two vice presidents of Sierra Theaters. “The big question was, ‘If we offered these additional items, would you come to the movies more often?’ The response was a resounding, ‘Yes!’”
Asked, answered — and soon-to-be implemented with a new café and beer and wine bar.
The Sierra Theaters company operates four local movie venues: the Del Oro Theatre in downtown Grass Valley, Sutton Cinemas in the Brunswick Basin, the Nevada Theater Film Series at the theater of the same name in Nevada City, and Sierra Cinemas at the corner of Main Street and Hughes Road.
The latter venue was chosen for an ambitious remodeling project. The result will be a new café with a wine and beer bar. The remodel will add big-city trimmings and trappings, while preserving the theater’s small-town, home-grown atmosphere.
“The obvious trend in the movie business is to increase offerings at the snack bar,” said Vice President Michael LaMarca, pointing to companies such as Movie Studio Grill in Rocklin where customers order meals and drinks, and waiters deliver those orders while the movie plays. “We decided to do research and explore what we could do here to offer more food and beverage options.”
“Creating a social space for people to visit and hang out before or after a movie was part of our vision,” added Azriel. “We’ll offer local craft beer, locally produced wine, and additional food options. The seating area and bar will be appealing. It will be a pleasant place to socialize when you go out to see a movie.”
Construction workers tore down an interior wall that separated the existing lobby from an adjoining vacant space. The new area will be 2,500 square feet, and the LaMarcas said hanging lamps and other décor will give the café an atmosphere different from the expanded lobby and snack bar.
Work started Aug. 22, at the end of the busy summer movie season. The LaMarcas credit architect Bruce Boyd with turning their vision into plans. Contractor Mark Tintle, owner of MK & Sons Construction, had his workers adjust their schedules so the theater could remain open and show movies during the construction phase.
There will also be enhancements to the theater’s ADA accessibility, such as improved ramps from handicapped parking spaces, lower counters for customers in wheelchairs, new ADA-compliant door pulls, and handrails on the ramp from the lobby to the auditoriums.
The project — from planning and permits to construction and new kitchen equipment — is expected to cost $350,000. Michael said final construction costs are yet to be determined since work won’t wrap up until later this month.
As jackhammers droned on in the background preparing existing concrete floors for new water lines, Michael smiled.
“With a big remodel project like this one, you never know what you’re going to encounter. But we’re having fun with it,” he said.
The new commercial kitchen will not have an open flame range, so menu offerings will be what the LaMarcas call “fun, finger food.” Examples include pizza, gourmet sausages, chicken tenders, and other delights that can be eaten without utensils in the auditoriums.
“The menu will likely evolve as time goes on, and we’re open to hearing what our customers want,” said Michael.
Operational hours for the café will depend on the times movies are offered, although the couple said the café may remain open later on weekends.
“We expect the café to be popular,” predicted Azriel. “We hope to serve customers in the café who drop in and don’t even plan to see a movie.”
The LaMarcas are also partnering with local caterers to provide fresh and healthy options, which may incorporate cheese plates, hummus with fresh vegetables, savory baked pasties, and similar fare.
Some customers will want to dine in the café, while others will take their food and libations into the movie auditoriums.
“The same food will be offered in both locations. You’ll be able to order finger food at the lobby counter, and you’ll also be able to order popcorn in the café,” added Azriel. “There will definitely be a different atmosphere in each space, but the entire area will be integrated.”
In addition to carefully checking movie-goers’ IDs and age, there are other plans in place to prevent wine or beer from landing in under-age hands:
Drink purchase limits — Only two drinks of beer or wine may be ordered per person per transaction.
Identifiable cups — Alcoholic beverage cups will be a different size and shape than soda cups, so staff can instantly tell who is drinking what.
Frequent auditorium checks — Staff will monitor auditoriums on a regular basis, vigilantly ensuring no alcoholic beverages are shared with under-age patrons.
“We also have some flexibility in how we program which movies will show at which sites,” Michael continued. “At Sierra Cinemas, we may focus on movies that are appropriate for adult audiences. We may program movies more appealing to teenagers at other locations. But we know Sierra Cinemas will remain family-friendly despite the changes.”
The new business model, the result of nearly two years of planning, is the latest in Sierra Theaters’ efforts to continually evolve and improve.
The family-operated business began locally in 1979, when Azriel’s parents, Mike and Barbara Getz, started the Nevada Theatre Film series. The company purchased additional theaters as it grew. The LaMarcas said they are proud of the way the business has invested in the community; hundreds of youths have worked their first jobs at the theaters.
The company has also invested in technology. Each venue is fully-equipped with digital projection and sound — including 3D — as well as digital-assisted listening and closed-captioning.
“Mike and Barbara have worked hard for so many years to build a successful business, and with their help, we are taking it to the next level,” said Michael.
The LaMarcas said their goal is not to make the Sierra Cinemas venue fancy and exclusive, like some Los Angeles theaters where movie tickets alone cost $25. They said prices for movie tickets won’t increase. They also said the prices for beer, wine, lobby and café offerings will stay in line with other moderately-priced local restaurants.
“We definitely want this new venture to remain accessible and friendly to local people,” stressed Azriel.
“Our business is serving everyone in the community. We’re not a niche business,” explained Michael. “We serve anyone who wants to go the movies — and that’s pretty much everyone.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a local business to be featured in The Union’s “Money Monday” section, contact Lorraine at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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