Back from the brink: Look Cinemas’ Brian Schultz survives and thrives in the post-pandemic market

Brian Schultz will forever remember the devastating blow March 19, 2020 dealt his business empire.

Of course, Schultz wasn’t alone in a battle against the disaster the coronavirus shutdowns have inflicted on restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and a vast array of other businesses under the “non-essential” business umbrella.

Schultz, who popularized the concept of the movie on location through his company Studio Movie Grill, was down but he was unwilling to come out.

While some of the company’s theaters were able to reopen in the summer of 2020, the toll of the pandemic left a depleted inventory of new first-run films that made it difficult to attract audiences. Studio Movie Grill was facing foreclosure by its lender.

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“The hardest part was that I had to lay off 7,200 people,” said Schultz, 53.

As CEO, Schultz did everything he could to save the company he founded in Dallas in 1993. He retained 34 employees and turned to preparing take-out food orders in the kitchens of its theaters to continue making money.

But in October 2020, Studio Movie Grill filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a move Schultz saw as an opportunity to recover.

“Our restructuring demonstrates our commitment to the future of SMG and to welcoming back our more than 7,000 valued team members as we strive to preserve our mission of opening hearts and minds, a story to the times,” Schultz said in a statement at the time.

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“Our guests can also be assured that we have always been, and will continue to be, committed to your safety and have the resources to do so,” he said.

Brian Schultz

The company offered further reassurance by announcing that it had “reached an agreement with its secured lenders to support its restructuring through financing and an agreement on the terms of a plan that will pave the way forward.”

But when Studio Movie Grill emerged from bankruptcy in April 2021, the company’s longtime CFO and COO, Ted Croft, took over as CEO.

Schultz set off to start over with an “upgraded, next-gen” version of the restoration film concept.

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For him, this type of business is a labor of love.

Schultz grew up in Chicago and Los Angeles and attended college at the University of California-Chico, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in finance and musical theater.

While in college, he became involved in political activism and took a job after graduating as an aide to the late U.S. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Schultz was working on the Specter campaign in the early 1990s, when Specter was trailing poorly in the polls. While contemplating his future beyond politics, Schultz filmed a movie at the Bethesda Cinema ‘N Drafthouse in Maryland and became fascinated with the concept of combining food and a movie.

Although Specter won the race, Schultz then launched his future in the restoration film business. In his attempt to see and learn as much as possible about the business, he traveled to Dallas and went to work at the legendary Granada Theater on Greenville Avenue.

Granada’s rich history in the Lower Greenville neighborhood includes multiple repurposes ranging from a first-to-second-run movie theater to an event center for various types of entertainment, a music venue, and a venue for community gatherings and weddings.

Just over a year ago, Schultz launched Look Cinemas and has now opened 10 locations across the country, including three in Texas – including two in Tarrant County, Arlington and Colleyville.

“We were lucky and decided to take the knowledge we had and create the next generation of dining theaters,” he said.

Schultz was confident he could make his new venture even more successful than Studio Movie Grill before the pandemic. He raised capital from private investors who gave him a solid financial footing to move forward.

Before the pandemic, Studio Movie Grill operated 25 locations with more than 350 movie screens in 10 states. Several new locations were under construction, including one at The Shops at Chisholm Trail in Fort Worth.

The company made Inc. the magazine’s list of “fastest growing private companies” for three consecutive years and ranked 11e in Box office “Industry Giants” magazine in 2019.

Studio Movie Grill currently operates in 21 locations across the country, including 10 in Texas. Two of these sites are in Arlington and a third in Fort Worth.

Schultz said he plans to add 12 more sites over the next 12 months. Eight of the 10 operating Look Cinema locations are in former Studio Movie Grill sites and the remainder are in abandoned former movie theater buildings.

Schultz said the pandemic has reshaped the movie theater experience in a way that means its competition isn’t so much with Studio Movie Grill or other restaurant movie chains.

“It’s with the couch,” he said, acknowledging that moviegoers have gotten used to lying on their couches and streaming movies to their TVs rather than going to the cinema.

To break this pandemic mindset, movie theaters must deliver an extraordinary experience.

This is where Schultz’s visionary approach and relentless attention to detail come in.

All Look auditoriums include premium sound and projection systems and ultra-comfortable recliners.

The food and drink menu features home-cooked American favorites, including panko- and coconut-crusted chicken tenders and shrimp, cheeseburger sliders, as well as pizzas, sandwiches, wraps and salads. To accompany starters, a wide selection of innovative craft cocktails, beers and wines.

Schultz took the food options a step further with decadent desserts including chocolate-hazelnut-filled New Orleans donuts and over-the-top “Insane” milkshakes.

Still, Schultz has remained diligent about affordability, offering entrees in the $10-$12 price range.

Look Cinemas reflects changes based on complaints it has received at its Studio Movie Grill cinemas. Improvements include minimizing disruption during movie play. Company policy requires that as much food and drink as possible be delivered in advance. During the film, service transactions are carried out as quietly and unobtrusively as possible by attendants dressed in dark clothing.

It also introduced plates that make the least rattling noise.

“People come here to watch a movie and they want it to be a great experience. Period,” Schultz said. “Quality is non-negotiable.”

Schultz is eagerly looking for new locations in communities where his product might be the only source of entertainment. Because of his experience with Grenada, he has taken a versatile business approach of hosting or renting auditoriums to serve as venues for concerts, conferences, film festivals, and community and corporate events.

As an adherent of the Conscious Capitalism movement, which emphasizes engagement over profit, Schultz partners with local nonprofits to help raise funds through music festivals. movies or other types of events by lending auditorium space.

Schultz continues to be deeply committed to the welfare of his staff and to paying a living wage.

“I started working for Brian 14 years ago,” said Casey Hudson, General Manager of Colleyville Look Cinemas. “Brian believes in meritocracy. My wife, my friends have all been with him for over 10 years. That says a lot about who he is. »

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