Around 7 p.m. on a hot and humid Friday evening in July, the crowds begin gathering for an outdoor movie at the parking lot of Da Mimmo restaurant in Baltimore's Little Italy. With lawn chairs and blankets in tow, they set up camp for an evening of star gazing. Under the moon's glow, they watch Cher and Nicholas Cage in the movie Moonstruck on a large screen overlooking the parking lot.
The open air cinema was part of a 10-week outdoor film festival sponsored by Baltimore's Little Italy Restaurant Association. The festival brought Italian and Italian-theme movies to the communityat no cost. Munching on free popcorn and cannolis, Baltimoreans watched everything from La Strada to Rocky. In return, the participating restaurants received a heaping dose of good publicity.
Those Little Italy restaurants aren't the only establishments to bring their communities the pleasure of watching an outdoor movie. From Washington DC to Washington state, restaurants are putting movies on the menu.
Restaurants serve as concession stands at outdoor movies
The Little Italy outdoor film festival actually grew out of a zoning dispute, says Mary Ann Cricchio, co-owner of Da Mimmo and president of the Little Italy Restaurant Association. About a year ago, the 16 restaurants of Little Italy teamed up to paint a Welcome to Little Italy mural on the wall overlooking the Da Mimmo parking lot, but rather than painting directly on the wall, the artist constructed a white billboard on which to paint the muralnot realizing that billboards were prohibited in the area. The Little Italy Restaurant Association was served with a stop-work order, and the community became embroiled in a debate about whether to change the zoning ordinance to allow billboards.
Ultimately the billboard prohibition was upheld, and the restaurant association was left with a large white board in the midst of the community. We didn't know what to do with it, says Cricchio. It was like a huge white elephant hanging up there. We had already poured $2,000 into the project... Jokingly, one of the restaurateurs said, вЂI think we should show outdoor movies on it. It looks like a screen at a drive-in theater.' Hey, that might actually work, thought Cricchio, recalling that on a recent visit to Italy she had seen movies projected on the side of a building. With few other options, the association decided to pursue the idea. Baltimore's Senator Theater helped with the logistics, and John Pente, an 89-year-old who owns the row house across the street from the empty billboard, let the association project the films from his third-floor bedroom. With a coat of nonreflective paint on the billboard, an outdoor movie theater was born.
It's really brought the community back together, says Cricchio. We had a huge lemon, and we made lemonade out of it. The outdoor movies have also helped build business, attracting people from the suburbs to an area they often overlook. People come early and they go out to eat at the restaurants, and they want to be done by 9 so they can watch the movie, she says.
As they settle down at the outdoor cinema, attendees are treated to a sweet dessertcannolis compliments of Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop, which is catty-cornered to the Da Mimmo parking lot. Co-owner Maria Vaccaro walks from person to person with a tray of the Italian pastries stuffed with sweet ricotta cheese. General Manager Alfredo Rotunno says the outdoor film festival is good business for the neighborhood. It brings in a lot of people . . . . We're like the concession stand with people buying gelatos, ices and pastries to enjoy during the movies. And the increased business extends beyond movie nights, says Rotunno. The film festival has been featured in the New York Times and People magazine and on CNN and ABC, as well as in local newspapers. You can't buy PR like that, he says.
Dinner, an outdoor movie and a little moonshine
Outdoor films are especially popular in California, where the warm, dry air makes alfresco viewing a delight. Restaurateur John Varnedoe has taken advantage of California's favorable climate to create Foreign Cinema, a combination restaurant and outdoor movie theater. Located in San Francisco, Foreign Cinema is a contemporary French bistro screening foreign classics, independent features and shorts in its courtyard year-round.
The idea of combining outdoor movies and dining came as a flash of inspiration to Varnedoe. When I saw the courtyard, it was filled with trash, and across the way there was a big white wall that was the rear of a janitorial supply company. And maybe because I used to work in a movie theater as a teenager, and I would sweep out the theater and look at the big white screen, when I saw this, it reminded me of a movie screen.
Foreign Cinema opened in August and has been well received, says Varnedoe. This is a pretty sophisticated city where people love foreign classics, he says. For some guests, the outdoor films serve as ambience as they dine on entrees such as Roasted Sonoma Duck Breast With Black Mission Figs. Others arrange their meals around viewing the movie, with some patrons arriving shortly before the screening, grabbing a seat in the cocktail area and ordering appetizers and drinks. As at a drive-in movie, speakers are available.
East of town, in Berkeley, the Pyramid Brewery and Alehouse also brings outdoor flicks to the community. Each Saturday for 12 weeks during the summer, Pyramid screens a popular movie on a large screen on the side of the brewery. From their lawn chairs and blankets in the brewery parking lot, this year's attendees watched A Bug's Life, Caddyshack, Dumb and Dumber and The X Files, among other movies. Although attendees are free to bring their own food, many purchase burgers and chicken available on site or carryout items from the Alehouse. The film festival creates brand awareness around the brewery and attracts people to the Alehouse, says Kathryn McPhilmy, sales and marketing manager of Pyramid Brewery.
Seattle's Pyramid Brewery and Alehouse also sponsors an outdoor film festival, but because of the logistics it is not on site. We would love to have it at the brewery, says Maggie Ward-Smith, director of sponsorship and special events for Pyramid's Northwest region, but the brewery and alehouse are located downtown, across the street from the new Safeco Field, where the Mariners play. The traffic noise and light pollution make it difficult to screen a movie. So the Seattle brewery sponsors outdoor cinema by taking part in the Fremont Friday Nite Outdoor Movies. We've definitely gained some great exposure from the event, says Ward-Smith.
A fistful of dollars for charity
In addition to offering enjoyable evenings, some outdoor film fests raise charitable funds. For example, Berkeley's Pyramid Brewery and Alehouse suggests that each attendee donate $5; proceeds are allocated to different nonprofit organizations, says McPhilmy.
In the suburbs of Washington DC, crowds gather for 10 nights during the summer to watch outdoor movies on the lawn of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This year's line up included Raiders of the Lost Ark, West Side Story and Titanic. The movies are free, but donations go to NIH charities, including Camp Fantastic for children with cancer. Local restaurants sell pizza, burgers, french fries and more, with a portion of the proceeds going to the NIH charities.
Potomac, Maryland's Potomac Pizza has participated in the event since it started, three years ago. It's a way to gain additional exposure for the restaurant, says President Adam Greenberg. It's also a way to contribute to the community, he says. These [NIH charities] are all phenomenal causes. We like to help support them.
See you at the movies?
Each week throughout this past summer, the crowd at the Little Italy outdoor movie festival grew larger and largerspilling out beyond the parking lot to the closed-off Stiles Street. Ci vediamo al cinema! ( See you at the movies! ), says a large sign near the makeshift outdoor cinema. The festival was so successful that the organizers extended it to the week after Labor Day, screening The Endless Summer, and the Little Italy restaurants have already agreed to host the outdoor film festival again next summer. This year's event cost about $4,000, including expenses to rent the film projector and movies. Cricchio considers every penny of that money well spent, considering the goodwill the restaurants have gained from their silver-screen promotion.
Source: Restaurants USA Magazine. Read full article at: http://www.restaurant.org/rusa/magArticle.cfm?ArticleID=451