When was the last time you went to dinner AND a movie?
Studio Movie Grill, known by regulars as SMG, has made a name for themselves by being one of the first theaters to modernized the traditional movie-going experience by combining first-run movies with full-service, in-theater dining, and as a result of its popularity, more and more people are making SMG their one-stop shop for dining and movie going.
Originally conceived in 1993, the theater chain has grown to more than 333 screens in 10 states with further expansion planned in 2020. At the end of 2019 they successfully opened two new locations, SMG Glendale in Southern California and SMG Prosperity Village in Charlotte, NC.
What makes the SMG experience different is their attention to detail. The experience begins when theater guests are able to reserve their seats ahead of time and continues when they get to the theater where they can order their food during the previews and then receive their meal to enjoy while watching the film from the comfort of their reclining seat. In fact some screens even have a heated seat function and a cooling cup option so your soda stays cold!
Executive Chef Thad Kelley has been with SMG for 20 years taking classic movie theater options and elevating them with quality ingredients. He created an innovative menu that focused on delicious food that is also health conscious but also appeals to the most distinguished palates. In fact, SMG also offers vegan and vegetarian options to their patrons. Some new items that have been introduced on the menu include naan flatbread pizzas and avocado toast, but they also still offer movie theater staples including popcorn and candy. Not to mention they have a full bar and create specialty cocktails to be enjoyed like their Studio Blue ‘Rita.
SMG’s goal is to open hearts and minds, one movie at a time. They reach out to the community and changes the lives of those around them with their food focused charity initiatives. Through a program called Chefs for Children, SMG donates 5% of proceeds to local non-profits serving children with special needs when you order a specific item. At the Glendale, CA location this dish is their classic Coconut Chicken + Shrimp. They also created a program called Movies + Meals where Studio Movie Grill donates a movie and a meal to a deserving non-profit in the community. Since the creation of their Movies + Meals program in Summer of 2018, they have provided over 45,000 meals to deserving non-profits in their communities.
We spoke with Thad Kelley, the Executive Chef at SMG, about their elevated in-theater dinning menu, keeping up with food trends and of course his favorite menu item!
You have been with Studio Movie Grill for over 20 years, how has the in-theater dining experience evolved?
In the beginning, SMG offered fresh and made from scratch products that included pizzas, burgers and chicken tenders as core choices. Eating in the dark, required hand held items, that our guests were comfortable with, but tended to be heavy in calorie counts and included more “comfort food” sides. Over the years, we have tested and developed many options for changing lifestyles. Fresh seafood, grilled chicken, low carbs and emphasis on reduced gluten, vegetarian and vegan options. The flavor profile has also matured from American and Southwest, to more Light Italian and Asian influences.
How does creating the menu at SMG differ from a traditional restaurant menu?
SMG has been very diligent on testing our products to ensure freshness, top of class ingredients with recognizable selections. Pushing the boundaries on current trends to make craveable items for our guests. Challanging our kitchens to execute complex dishes to a large amount of guests, in a very short amount of time, with the promise of delivering a great quality.
What is the most popular SMG dish? What is your favorite?
SMG has partnered with several companies to develop our own custom recipes from a seasoned, light batter chicken tender, custom blend of beef with bakery fresh brioche buns and signature pizza crusts. Our product mix will vary based on the selection of movies. In a typical shift, adult films will choose more complete appetizer and entrees, kid films will choose a combination of lighter fare and entrees, where as many of our romantic comedies will choose light calorie sharables, flatbreads and fresh salads.
My favorite item is the Coconut Chicken Tenders. SMG’s unique flavor combinations of Coco Lopez and Panko Bread Crumbs makes this dish our signature item for the Chefs for Children menu.
How is your menu changing with consumers now being more mindful about what they are eating and dietary restrictions?
SMG is constantly testing and developing more low calorie, low carb, reduced gluten, vegetarian and vegan options. From our new flatbreads that include roasted cauliflower or hummus, to our new salads that have lean steak, seared salmon, ahi tuna with super greens and avocado. SMG also has used more Indian, Asian and Italian influences to introduce Naan, Forbidden Rice, Couscous, Quinoa and a vast array of new fresh herbs and vegetables.
What food trends are you seeing in in-theater dining?
Though we serve great custom appetizers like potato skins or wings and entrees like Cheddar Burgers, Mac & Cheese or Pizzas, we are seeing a more health conscious guest. Seared Ahi Tuna bowls with Sesame Slaw, Mango and Edamame, Super Greens Salad with Grilled Chicken, Cucumbers, Feta Cheese and Balsamic or Flatbread Avocado Toast with Arugula, Heirloom Tomatoes and Lemon have lead the way on our newest menu. SMG has seen our guest become more complex with their choices. The guests are looking for unique flavor combinations. SMG has developed a new Fresh Mozzarella and Capicola on Naan bread pizza, instead of the traditional sausage pizza. Others include Curried Ricotta with Roasted Cauliflower or Hummus on Naan Bread with Basil and Sundried Tomato Pesto. Dried Fruit, Nuts with Brie, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with unique veggies for dipping, Roasted bbq Chicken with Roasted Sweet Onions, Mango and Cilantro are all selections that offer multiple crossovers between cultural food items. Providing items that are light, fresh, great quality and most of all….taste great.
Studio Movie Grill helps the community through their food focused charity initiatives like Chefs for Children and Movies + Meals. Why do you think it is important for SMG to support these initiatives?
SMG exists to open hearts and minds, one movie at a time. This holds true with the dining experience and food selections. Being able to build a culture around how SMG can make a wake in the community, is an essential principle we take to heart. All of our Chefs help contribute every day. Being able to make our guest experience memorable through food, is a key training tool. How we purchase our products, prepare the food and execute great quality items will add to the overall movie experience. Being part of Chefs for Children and the Movies + Meals program gives our team members more of a self-reflecting purpose.
Finally, what tips can you offer first-time guests to assure they have a great SMG experience?
Ask questions, try new flavors, give us feedback and enjoy your time with us.
We hope you are able to visit a Studio Movie Grill and enjoy the experience for yourself. Visit StudioMovieGrill.com for a list of locations.