Pub with art-house theater to open

Published Monday, May 14, 2018
by Molly M. Fleming

Clay Farha waited three years for someone to bring something interesting to his building.

Farha is the president of BD Eddie Enterprises, which owns the building at 800 NW Fourth St.

“We were waiting for the right tenant,” Farha said. “We had turned down other uses. We felt like something cool and cutting-edge was what we were looking for.”

Luckily for Farha, Hunter Wheat and his business partner Lacey Pritchard happened to take a wrong turn one day and drove past the building at Fourth and N. Hudson Avenue. The couple had found another building, but they were going to have to spend a lot of money initially to get the building ready for their concept.

But this building at Fourth Street came with new windows and a helpful landlord. Farha is installing new heating and air conditioning units and putting on a new roof. He signed Wheat and Pritchard to a 20-year lease for their concept, Social Cinema Pub.

“(Farha) has been great to work with,” Pritchard said. “He saw the vision right away.”

Pritchard and Wheat founded Bleu Garten, but they’ve seen this pub concept work in other cities. The Social Cinema Pub is more social and pub than it is cinema. It would not have been legal before a law was passed allowing theaters to sell alcohol. The couple doesn’t consider the place a theater; they see it as a bar that happens to have movies as an entertainment option.

Their business model reflects that, Wheat said. At a regular theater, the tickets are priced high to generate revenue, and the concession offerings aren’t that tasty.

“We’re flipping that model,” he said. “It will give more perceived value to the food.”

Wheat said they’re expecting to sell tickets for first-run and cult-classic films for about $5. Events like election night and sporting events will be free to watch. Wheat has a culinary background and will be generating the recipes for the kitchen. The menu is all finger-friendly, so it will be easy to eat while watching a film.

There are two screens in the nearly 13,000-square-foot building. The theaters will back up to a center concession stand, which is separate from the outside bar area.

The space has plenty of soundproofing, so people in the bar can’t hear the movie, and the people watching the movie won’t be able to hear the bar crowd.

The Social Cinema Pub will be the fourth small-screen theater in the metro. The Rodeo Opry is showing films in Stockyards City. The Tower Theatre shows films when it’s not hosting a concert. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art has been showing films for several years.

OKCMOA Director of Curatorial Affairs Michael Anderson, who oversees the museum’s film program, said via email that the museum thinks there is room for more art-house and single-screen film venues in the city.

“Because there is so much interesting cinema out there, we can’t show it all,” he said. “We are encouraged by the sudden emergence of this sector in our city.”

Pritchard and Wheat said they hope to have their cinema pub opened by November. They have to do about $1.5 million in construction to bring the concept to life. It’s a blank slate, with exposed brick and an exposed ceiling.

They have their own money and investors’ funds in the project. They second-guessed signing the lease when they found out Pritchard was pregnant.

But they’ve seen this concept boom in Portland, Oregon, where Wheat went to culinary school. They’ve also had success with Bleu Garten, which has helped them be more confident about doing this well.

A late-fall opening date will get the eatery starting in time to get Bleu Garten employees an indoor job because the food truck park will be closed by then.

They said they know there will be more theaters with alcohol and food coming into the market, but they have a neighborhood-type concept, and it’s by local people. They said they’re entering this second concept with more confidence than they did with Bleu Garten. They’ve learned lessons like personnel management and vendor operations along the way.

With the opening of that first concept behind them, they’re ready for the second one.

“You feel like you can do it,” Pritchard said.

Farha believes in them as well. He said the company checked out the couple pretty hard before signing the lease.

“We liked what we saw,” he said. “We think they’re good, young operators.”

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