Film fare – Think sticky sweets are your only option? Get with it, Goober

Written by Tamara Ikenberg 
Published by The Courier-Journal - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Call it "minner." At the modern movie theater, dinner and a movie are the new double feature.

In theater lobbies, old-school faves like Sno-Caps and Swedish Fish compete with gourmet coffee and complete meals that far surpass nachos with slimy, suspicious-looking cheese.

The lobby has become more of a hangout than simply the space you walk through to reach the auditorium.

Locally, Cinemark Tinseltown USA at Springhurst Towne Center has recently started selling a variety of ice creams, burgers, fries and more -- packaged for in-theater enjoyment -- at the new "Studio Eats" stand. Tables and chairs provide a place to chill before, after or even instead of taking in a flick.

"In the old days it was granted you were going to get a popcorn, a soda and that's it," said Jon Prince, owner of Internet candy store and wholesale movie candy retailer candyfavorites.com. "Today, you might get a popcorn, you might get a mocha latte, you might get a box of Swedish Fish."

The sprawling lobby at the Showcase Cinema de Lux 16 at Preston Crossing is a major food court, featuring Starbucks-sipping patrons relaxing in comfy chairs, a Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, a Sbarro and a full-service restaurant, Chatters Bar & Grill.

Taking a cue from its surroundings, Chatters offers movie-themed cocktails like the Dirty Dancing Martini (Absolut Raspberry, Triple Sec and lime juice) and the Pirates of the Caribbean Rum Runner (Cruzan Dark Rum, Captain Morgan's and pineapple and orange juices).

You can even get a beer for less than what you'd pay for a small soda … but you have to drink it before entering the theater.

If, that is, you are even going to a movie.

"We've got our regulars who just come to eat," said Dana Thompson, a Chatters employee. Chatters has also become a popular lunch spot for people who work in the area, she said.

Concessions are a big business. The treats account for 40 percent of all theater profits, according to In Focus magazine, a publication that covers the movie industry.

While the movie meal may be moving in, it's not evicting classic movie candy. Familiar favorites like Milk Duds, Goobers and Junior Mints still tempt from behind the glass with their ultra sugar-high prices.

"The standard markup for (movie candy) is 300 percent. They may sell a box of candy for four dollars that they paid a dollar for," Prince said. "When you go to a movie theater, you always pay that extra money because it's part of the 'experience.' "

Well, not always. Another trend, Prince said, is people buying concession-type candy ahead of time and bringing it with them. "They sneak it into the theater. We sell to anybody -- large corporate chains and … directly to consumers."

Suanne Nixdorf, 64, of Elizabeth, Ind., is a Junior Mints smuggler.

"They fit nicely in my purse." Nixdorf buys her beloved chocolate-covered minty discs directly from candyfavorites.com. The main reason? The theater she frequents doesn't stock them.

"I have my grandchildren addicted to Junior Mints too," she said. But "they're just for our movies. (Around the house,) "we put them way up high."

Prince said that almost all original movie candies are still in circulation. "If they didn't sell so well, they're not part of our collective memory," he said.

Locally, stabs at selling new concession candies haven't had sweet endings.

Two years ago, the Baxter Avenue Theatres behind Mid City Mall introduced Japanese sweets like Pocky, crunchy, pretzel-like sticks with sweet frosting. They are no longer available. They just didn't sell, said Les Aberson, president of Apex Theatres.

Moviegoers clearly prefer to munch on more familiar goodies. Nationally, Raisinets are the best-selling snack, says In Focus' editor in chief Jim Kozak.

Edna Lee, an "over-55" Okolona resident who was heading into the Cinema de Lux 16 at Preston Crossing recently, said that Raisinets are her all-time favorite snack.

But she also makes room for the next generation of options, occasionally getting a gourmet coffee.

Prince said that in his experience, young people are drawn to tart treats like Sour Patch Kids, while older film folks prefer the classics. Junior Mints remains a perennial favorite.

"Me, I'm a Junior Mints fan," said Jason Andrews, a 28-year-old Jeffersonville, Ind., resident who works at a marketing firm and was catching a recent flick at the Cinemark Greentree 10 in Clarksville.

He said he's been into Junior Mints ever since seeing the famous "Seinfeld" episode where Kramer sang the praises of the treat.

Andrews, also a fan of Milk Duds and Hot Tamales, said he isn't impressed with the allegedly more "sophisticated" movie fare.

"It's a waste of time. There are already too many Starbucks as it is."