iPic chief executive Hamid Hashemi is a driving force behind the luxury movie-going experience
Hamid Hashemi is an Immigrant Who Got the Job Done.
For the past three decades, the Iran-born cinema operator has been fighting variations of the movement to Netflix and chill. To get Americans to the movies, he’s built cinemas that resemble the Palais Garnier in Paris and even offered on-site childcare so parents can have a peaceful night out. “We can do everything we want at home but we’re social creatures,” the 57-year-old founder and chief exec of iPic tells Moneyish. “People will still come out as long as we provide them with an over the top experience.”
Founded in 2006, iPic now runs 121 screens across 16 cinemas from Pasadena, CA to Austin, TX and lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. Five more are on the way, with Hashemi picking spots in relatively dense urban areas. For about $20 per ticket– a little over double the $8.84 that an average American movie stub cost– cinemagoers get an upscale experience that includes dining service, reclining chairs and free popcorn. Seats are laid out two-by-two, so its black-clad “ninja” servers don’t walk in front of you—and the screen— when bringing your orders. The move to upgrade the traditional movie-going experience is one being replicated by cinema chains like AMC, which plans to spend $600 million on upgrading its cinemas with fittings such as seat recliners, as box office revenue has largely been stagnant. Americans spent $11.37 billion at the movies in 2016, up less than 5% from 2012, data from Box Office Mojo show.
Now based in Boca Raton, Fla., Hashemi has long been a first mover. He arrived in the United States aged 19 for medical school in late 1978, leaving Tehran on a Ross Perot rescue plane mere months before the theocratic regime took over. “I got out purely by accident and that completely changed everything for me,” he says, adding that he didn’t know the plane was owned by Perot until years later, when the NBC miniseries “On the Wings of Eagles” dramatized that episode.
He first lived in Iowa City, but with just $700 to his name, Hashemi wasn’t able to complete med school, so he spent his time learning English and eventually moved into the real estate and movies business. Today, each iPic outlet is visited by between 250,000 to 400,000 moviegoers annually. Last year, it signed a deal with Netflix that let it screen films produced by the streaming service as they were launched. Hashemi says plans are underway for his chain to host things such as live events. “None of it was easy and there was no blueprint for it,” he says. “But all of us have survival instincts and I was no different from another other immigrant. You work hard and dream, and keep doing it.”
To hear him tell it, Hashemi got into the cinematic venues industry by accident. He bought a tiny three-screen theatre in Coral Springs, Fla. in the 1980s, after being convinced by a business partner that it was an easy business with a steady revenue stream bolstered by popcorn and soda sales. The entrance of a larger cinema chain nearby four months later forced him to scramble for survival and he came across the idea of lavish theaters with good service after studying the industry. He founded iPic after being forced out of Muvico, a small luxury cinema chain he ran for almost two decades, when his bid to takeover the company was rejected by the board.
Despite the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s been emanating from the Trump administration, Hashemi doesn’t think it’d be any more difficult for the foreign-born to make it in America today. “The Iranian hostage situation happened right after I came, so the sentiment toward Persians wasn’t favorable,” he says drily. “But I never paid attention to it. In America you’re judged as an individual, regardless of where you come from. That’s the secret to this country’s success.”
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