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Movie night done right: Venetian Theaters take dine-in movie upscale
Jared Watson / Staff photo – The hallways, bar and even concession stands at the Venetian Theater are all laid out in gold, part of the vision of co-founder Warren Packer, Jr.
The date night staple of dinner and a movie is getting an elegant makeover at Carrollton's Venetian Theaters.
The Venetian offers moviegoers a world-class theater experience and a high-quality, made-from-scratch menu, all without asking guests to leave their seats. In addition, the theater's hallways are decked out with gold walls and columns and marble countertops.
Assistant general manager Maxton Donnell said the design for the Venetian is the brainchild of the co-founder, Warren Packer, Sr.
"This building is his vision and his design," Donnell said. "It's very elaborate and very elegant, and really nothing you would see going into any other theater."
The care and elegance extend to the Venetian's menu, which was created by executive chef Salvador Hernandez to bring upscale dining to the movie theater industry.
"I worked for 15 years in private country clubs and business clubs," Hernandez said. "So I wanted to bring some of that country club food to this setting."
The Venetian's menu features a wide variety of items including salads, pizza and unique side dishes like habanero potato chips, smoked cheddar mashed potatoes, spicy green beans. The menu also features "chef skinny options" like roasted veggie burgers and shrimp skewers. Almost all of the menu is created completely from scratch.
"We don't have any freezers in the kitchen," Donnell said. "It's all fresh, so nothing gets thawed out and thrown in the oven; everything is made from scratch."
The Venetian's culinary calling card is their hamburgers, which Hernandez said are made with quality few restaurants can match.
"I get the beef from a local ranch, and we buy the whole cow," Hernandez said. "We grind everything into the patties, including the ribeye. So all the prime cuts of beef are in the burgers. When you're eating our burger it's like eating part of the tenderloin, part of the ribeye, not just the cheap meat like everyone else does."
Hernandez also offers weekly "chef specials" that add unique off-menu items to the theater's standard fare.
"It could be anything from surf and turf to a Philly cheese steak or quesadilla," Hernandez said. "It's all to get people excited about trying something different."
Donnell said people coming to the Venetian for the first time should be aware that coming early will allow them to have the best experience.
"We like for our guests to arrive 30 to 45 minutes before the movie starts," Donnell said. "That way they can get to know their server a little bit, and get to know the person that will be taking care of the for the next two to two-and-a-half hours."
Donnell said the staff's number one priority is to serve guests quickly without interfering with their enjoyment of the film.
"We are a dinner theater, and most of the people that come here will be ordering something off the menu, but you're here to watch a movie," Donnell said. "We want everyone to be able to watch every scene in the movie they came and paid to see."
To that end, the Venetian has installed an ordering system where guests can write their orders on note cards and flip a switch to notify wait staff, who can serve the guest without having to speak to them.
"That way the server can come by really quickly, grab the note card, turn the light off and get right out of the way," Donnell said.
The theaters feature some of the best sound in the industry, thanks to custom-designed 40,000-watt audio systems courtesy of co-founder Warren Packer, Jr.'s company, 3DX Sound.
"These are his babies," Donnell said. "I've never heard anything like them. My in-home theater system, which is one of the best money can buy, compares nothing to this."
In addition, the screens in the Venetian are as large as 55 feet across, and specially designed to maximize the visual experience.
"Most other theaters have just a flat image," Donnell said. "Ours is curved, and it takes up the whole wall. It brings out the picture better. It's a great way to watch a movie."
The Venetian currently has four screens open, with an additional six under construction. Donnell said the construction is estimated to be completed by December 2013. He said the feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, even with only a few movies playing at a time.
"The response has been incredible," Donnell said. "We have people coming to see us two and three times a week, and we only have four movies out."
The Venetian also has a unique program to appeal to the hearing-impaired. On Saturdays, the theater's first showing of the most recently released movies are shown with subtitles, a step Donnell said he was frustrated that his previous employers did not take.
"They had other methods that allowed them to be able to watch the movies," Donnell said. "But they never went above and beyond and put the captions up there, and allowing them to read it, instead of having headphones with the volume really cranked up."
The Venetian will also show any of its movies with subtitles with advanced notice.
Donnell, who has worked in the dine-in theater industry for six years before coming to the Venetian, said the quality of the facility and food is what drew him to it.
"Nobody does it like this, and I can say that for a fact," Donnell said. "I've worked for the competitors."