Earlier this month, it was announced that a new operator is moving into the closed movie theater and bowling alley at Bayshore in Glendale. During an interview with BizTimes Media, Michael Barstow, executive vice president of ACX Cinemas, shared his family’s vision for the space. Barstow’s mother and father started ACX Cinemas back in 1988. The family grew up in Detroit and has since expanded their presence in the hospitality industry. ACX operates four cinemas throughout Nebraska and Iowa. The Bayshore location will be the company’s first venture into the Wisconsin market. ACX’s new 42,951 square-foot location at Bayshore will include six movie theaters, bowling, gaming and a full-service bar and restaurant called Backlot Pizza + Kitchen. Following is a portion of the interview with Barstow: How did you end up finding the Bayshore cinema location?Barstow: “It was a bizarre thing. COVID had just shut down basically the whole world in March of 2020 and I was in Chicago. I’ve got a couple of brokers at Mid-America (Real Estate) who are the brokers for the entire complex at Bayshore. I had nothing going on, so they were like, ‘Hey do you want to go check out some places in Milwaukee?’ I was looking at restaurant spaces in Milwaukee and one of the guys – he didn’t know we had a background in movie theaters – said ‘Hey, would you want to go check out this movie theater?’ What attracted you to the space?Barstow: “What Bayshore is today versus what Bayshore was in March of 2020 are two wildly different pictures. So, we go up there, COVID shut everything down, it’s cold, Cypress Equities had just started their process of bringing Bayshore back…it was just a really rough time. Looking at it in a very different light, the space was kind of interesting. You have this full-service restaurant opportunity in there. We had been talking within the company about getting more into some family entertainment aspects in addition to movie theaters. I came back to Chicago and kept thinking about it and kept having conversations that lasted for two years. Every discussion we had over the next two years, we saw every single thing they (Cypress) talked about come to fruition. They’re doing some really good work in that area and it was them delivering on what they sold us time after time. We couldn’t help as a company but get excited.” What format do your other cinemas follow?Barstow: “Our last project is ACX Cinema 12+ (in Omaha, Nebraska). It’s also attached to our restaurant Backlot Pizza + Kitchen. That project is kind of what shifted our mindset at the company on what we wanted to be. We’ve made a bunch of investments internally in our food and beverage offerings. That’s the world that we love and that’s kind of our niche. When we provide our experience, whether it be the movie theater or bowling or gaming, we’re going to have an elevated food service that we’re offering. Backlot is its own standalone restaurant and we take advantage of that. This past Saturday, we had a football game on our big screen, we had a private birthday party in our lounge, and we had another party going on, plus normal Saturday night activities. By having those two things (the activities and restaurant) in the same building, what we’re able to deliver is way above our competition.” What’s going to attract people to the ACX Bayshore location? What will be different this time around?Barstow: “I think it’s a different time. Obviously, I think coming out of COVID is a very different time. The world is a little bit different and I think that changed the model of what a movie-going experience is. I would say our biggest separator goes back to our food and beverage. What we’re going to do in that restaurant, that’s going to drive everything. I think when people think of movie theaters, they immediately think the food can’t be good. I would argue the opposite.” [caption id="attachment_557933" align="alignleft" width="768"] The restaurant and bar area of an ACX theater.[/caption] What are some of the food staples on your menu?Barstow: “Kind of our calling card is this Detroit-style pizza. We take the pizza, which is the core, and we surround it with a really cool, extensive small plate menu. A lot of the shareable plates cater really well to that sort of environment. Beyond that, I think our burgers are as good as any burger you can have. We have some wraps, chicken, sandwiches and things of that nature. We also have a nice salad collection and pasta as well.” What kind of work are doing you inside the auditoriums?Barstow: “The bulk of it is the same but there is a fairly extensive multi-million-dollar renovation that’s happening in that building. Every auditorium is getting completely redone. We’re taking out all the old seats and putting in luxury heated recliners. Within the restaurant space, that’s going to be a fairly significant face lift on the bar and dining portion of it. When you walk into that space, it’s going to feel very different. We want it to feel big and open and get as much light in there as possible. We want to create this elevated experience where you just want to hang out there.” What’s the best movie you’ve seen the past few months?Barstow: “I’ve gotta say Top Gun. We’ve got an auditorium in one of our locations that has an over 70-foot-wide screen with Dolby Atmos sound. When Top Gun hit, that was the first big blockbuster coming out of those two years of COVID. Sitting in that auditorium, watching Tom Cruise on the big screen with the fighter jets, that was an incredible experience that I’ll probably always remember.”
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