New Carlsbad luxury cinema puts the focus on food

Final construction work is under way this week on the Cinépolis Luxury Theater La Costa Town Square, which will open in east Carlsbad on Feb. 7.
(Pam Kragen / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Cinépolis luxury cinema opening next week in east Carlsbad is the prototype for all future U.S. locations


Thanks to home streaming services, attendance at American movie theaters is on the decline. But a first-of-its-kind luxury cinema opening next week in Carlsbad aims to buck the trend by operating as a farm-to-table restaurant and bar that also shows films.

On Feb. 7, the Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas La Costa Town Square will host its grand opening at 3434 Via Mercato in Carlsbad. The 33,368-square-foot building, near the intersection of Rancho Santa Fe Road and La Costa Avenue, has a full-service bar and eight auditoriums ranging in size from 49 to 115 leather reclining seats, each equipped with a menu, tray table and call button for waiter service. But the big difference at the new Cinépolis is the kitchen, which is larger than that found in most full-size restaurants.

While many movie theaters now offer heartier fare like fried chicken wings, burgers and flatbreads alongside their buttered popcorn, the new La Costa Town Square location will serve a seasonal, chef-driven, made-from-scratch menu similar to what can be found at most Southern California restaurants. Movie-goers will be able to watch a movie while dining on crispy Brussels sprouts with house soy chili glaze, cauliflower-crust caprese pizza with fresh-made pesto, beer batter-dipped fish and chips, herb butter-poached lobster tacos, baked-to-order cookies and a poke bowl tossed with marinated ahi tuna or Korean bulgogi beef.

Adam Flierl, vice president of food and beverage for Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas, holds a made-from-scratch Cobb salad at the chain's soon-to-open La Costa Town Square location on Wednesday.
(Pam Kragen / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The La Costa Town Square cinema was hand-chosen by Cinépolis as the first location to roll out the expanded menu, which will eventually be introduced at most of its 30 U.S. locations. Founded in 1947 in Morelia, Mexico, Cinépolis is the world’s second-largest movie exhibitor. Its first location in the United States opened in 2011 in North County in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center. In the years since, two other Cinépolis locations have opened in west Carlsbad and Vista. The Town Square location is the fourth local venue.

“This is where we brought the concept to the U.S. in 2011 and this area has been very good to us,” said Annelise Holyoak, national director of marketing and communications for Cinépolis. “This is our most loyal fan base so we wanted them to experience this first.”

The idea for the restaurant-style concept was born last year when Cinépolis purchased the Texas-based Moviehouse & Eatery cinema chain, which offers a gourmet menu but not luxury auditoriums. The La Costa Town Square cinema aims to blend the best of both companies.

“At Moviehouse, 80 percent of the chef-driven menu was made from scratch in-house and on trend. We were better at the movie experience and design but they were better with the food,” Holyoak said.

The new theater not only has a larger kitchen, it also has 30 percent more staff as well as twice as many kitchen managers and its own regional executive chef, Alberto Rodriguez, who will create a half-dozen new items every quarter tied to produce that’s in season. Rather than hiring theater workers and training them to make food, all of the kitchen staff are from the food service industry, and many will arrive long before the movies begin each morning to start marinating meats, making dressings, pesto, sauces and salsas.

Kitchen staff at Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas La Costa Town Square make pizzas, salads and tacos from scratch on Wednesday, in training for the theater's opening on Feb. 7.
(Pam Kragen / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

During a training session on Wednesday morning, a half-dozen kitchen workers prepared a Cobb salad, carne asada taco plate, two pizzas and a buttered pretzel plate in a matter of minutes. With 570 seats at La Costa Town Square, and an average of 60 percent of customers expected to order larger menu items, the need for team coordination and speed will be high. The goal at the new venue is to get food items out to customers in even less time than it did in the past with a simpler menu, said Adam Flierl, president of food and beverage, marketing and sales for Cinépolis.

“If people are going to go to the movies less often, then when they do they want the quality and the best movie-going experience,” Flierl said. “The ultimate traffic driver for where someone is going to go will always be the film itself. But if our hospitality, service, and food and beverage is better, then maybe they’ll come back sooner.”

Another new food feature at the Town Square location will be “bottomless” popcorn and drinks. For $9, moviegoers can order a stainless steel bowl filled with buttered popcorn, or $6.50 for a bottomless soft drink or Icee. Whenever they’re ready for a refill, they can push the service button for a hand-delivered replacement.

The bar lounge and lobby at the new Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas La Costa Town Square, which will open Feb. 7 in Carlsbad.
(Pam Kragen / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

With the opening of the Town Square location, Cinépolis will be operating two Carlsbad locations just four miles apart. To differentiate them, the older 6-screen theater — near the Carlsbad City Library at 6941 El Camino Real — has been redubbed the La Costa Paseo Real location. It doesn’t yet have the kitchen space for the full menu, but it will begin offering different movies to avoid duplication with its new sister cinema.

The Paseo Real location is transitioning into more of an arthouse cinema. Major blockbusters will still be screened there, but more of the films will be smaller, independent, alternative, foreign, concert and documentary films, Holyoak said.

The La Costa Town Square location will open with a ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m. Feb. 7, with family activities, giveaways, a DJ and free food sampling planned until 3 p.m. that day. For more, visit

Some of the new made-from-scratch food items that will be served at the Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas La Costa Town Square opening in Carlsbad on Feb. 7. Clockwise from top left: Cobb salad, chicken bacon ranch pizza, Caprese pizza, Asada steak tacos with roasted corn and tortilla chips and Bavarian-style pretzel stix with queso blanco dip.
(Pam Kragen / The San Diego Union-Tribune)