When Harkins Theatres reopened its Valley theaters Aug. 28, moviegoers had an appetite for more than a heaping bucket of buttery popcorn with a Coke-filled Harkins Loyalty Cup on the side to wash it all down.
Surrounding restaurants also reaped the benefits of the Scottsdale theater chain’s reopening.
For example, at Cien Agaves, a taco-and-tequilas restaurant located mere steps from the Harkins at Scottsdale 101 entrance, sales were up 15 percent Friday through Sunday compared to the previous weekend.
“It impacts us quite a bit,” owner Roque Jimenez said of Harkins’ reopening.
AZ Kabob, a fine Persian cuisine restaurant also in the Scottsdale 101 shopping complex, saw a tremendous boost in sales as well.
“And frankly, I did not know that the movie theater had opened,” owner Nizam Missaghi said with a laugh, adding that they had a 20 to 30 percent boost in sales.
“The weekend sales were particularly very strong,” Missaghi said. “We saw an improvement.”
Cien Agaves understandably relies heavily on Harkins foot traffic.
When Jimenez expanded the Cien Agaves brand in 2017, he specifically opened restaurant No. 2 in front of the movie theater because of its prime location.
“The theater is integral to the success of our restaurant,” Jimenez said. “We are the main restaurant right in front of the movie theater, and it was one of the things that drew us to this location.”
The boost in foot traffic gave Jimenez hope for the future of the Scottsdale 101 shopping center.
“More important than anything is having that sense of people walking around and the normalcy of people coming in,” Jimenez said. “I had a lot of customers say it was the first time coming out and doing anything other than picking up fast food or something.”
“They said it was their first time at a movie, their first time sitting at a restaurant, and they were at our restaurant because they were going to a movie,” he added.
While the theater did provide a much-needed boost in foot traffic to nearby food establishments, both Missaghi and Jimenez said lunch sales continue to suffer.
“There’s just less people around to use the restaurants for their lunch needs,” Missaghi said.
“The daytime lunch business in the shopping center has really been hurt – lunch and happy hour – because that was dependent on a lot of the office buildings around our shopping center,” Jimenez added.
Nearby businesses include American Express, Choice Hotels International, Republic Services, and more.
“And they’re obviously not back in their offices yet,” Jimenez said.
“But, now that people are going to matinees and movies in the early afternoon, they come in and have drinks or food and it helps out all parts of our day — afternoon, night,” he added.
A boost in business à la Harkins isn’t the only thing Cien Agaves and AZ Kabob have in common.
Both were one of a few Scottsdale restaurants that installed plexiglass partitions between booths.
“It’s actually very impressive,” Missaghi said of AZ Kabob’s plexiglass, which cost the owner $7,000.
“You literally will be in glass cubicles when you’re sitting, with an opening that’s about 3-feet that allows for people to come in and out. It basically contains the air within this space, and I think it’s useful in enhancing social distancing,” he continued.
Cien Agaves has about 15 booths walled off with permanently installed glass partitions.
“It looks really nice, but it’s also a very safe feeling when you go in a booth that’s basically all walled off,” Jimenez said.
Both owners said they believe their patrons feel safe because they space guests apart per CDC guidelines, in addition to other implemented health and safety protocols.
“Unfortunately, there’s still restaurants that probably don’t space out where they should, but we’ve made it a point to space out people at least 6 feet,” Jimenez said.
Opening weekend included new films such as Marvel’s “The New Mutants,” “Unhinged” with Russell Crowe, and the 10th anniversary rerelease of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”
This weekend, the much-anticipated “Tenet” starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson was slated to show after months of delay – and Jimenez is hopeful this new release will mean even more business for his northern Scottsdale restaurant.
“I think this week is going to either be busier because now we’re going to have 'Tenet' and some of the bigger blockbusters coming out,” he said.