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Movies-Plus: Merchants go way beyond screening films

Southeast Florida is fertile ground for entrepreneurs pushing innovation in movie theaters. Earlier this year, Bruce Frank, CEO of Jupiter-based Frank Entertainment, opened his CineBowl & Grille in Delray Beach. In addition to an IMAX theater, CineBowl features bowling, an arcade, an upscale restaurant called the Red Brick Grille, two bars and Frank’s proprietary large-screen projection and sound system, FDX (Frank Digital Extreme). Frank has other theaters coming in Miami and Sarasota.

Down the road in Boca Raton, Hamid Hashemi, who founded the Muvico chain, is similarly breaking the mold with his iPic Entertainment. At iPic’s nine locations, only one of which is in Florida — a second comes to Delray in 2015 — patrons choosing “premium plus” tickets recline on leather seats, get pillows and blankets and call buttons to summon servers bringing food and cocktails. There’s “grab and go” gourmet food for in-theater dining. Some theaters have a bar and lounge.

Meanwhile, Michael Whalen and his Deerfield Beach-based Paragon Theaters offer yet another new take on the theater experience. Paragon has eight theaters, with five in Florida, including one in Naples it bought earlier this year and is renovating. It’s building a luxury theater in Davenport on I-4 that will include reclining leather seats and craft beer and wine sales. Paragon is majority owned by Latin American theater giant Cinepolis.

Frank’s 27-theater Frank Entertainment (seven locations in Florida) got its start 107 years ago with his grandfather, who ran early nickelodeons in Philadelphia. Driving the addition of bowling lanes and restaurants is the recognition that each week he has to make payroll and rent regardless of whether studios are releasing movies people want to see. “We believe the future of entertainment is total entertainment centers,” he says.

Frank has 25 projects on the drawing board, three of which will open by year’s end. He’s launched Revolutions, a mix of the Red Brick Grille with bowling, billiards, bars, a TV sports amphitheater, live music, DJs and an arcade. He has sites under way in Orlando, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Fort Myers and CityPlace in West Palm Beach.

Frank says what innovators have in common is the freedom publicly held chains lack to take risks and be creative. “At the end of the day it’s all about the experience,” Frank says.