Elgin restaurant plans outdoor drive-in movie
An Elgin restaurateur's idea of hosting a drive-in movie showing on a giant screen in the parking lot is selling out quickly, perhaps paving the way for more such entertainment across the suburbs.
Nick Smith is the co-owner of Old Republic Kitchen + Bar at 155 S. Randall Road in Elgin. He is also the writer and director of the 2011 independent horror/suspense PG-13 thriller "Munger Road."
The idea of showing his movie came after he read about the popular reopening of the McHenry Outdoor Theater earlier this month during the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said.
"We have such a large space here in Elgin, because of the side of the restaurant and the parking lot and what not, and of course I have very close ties to moviemaking," he said. "People just want to get out of their houses and do something different."
A total 100 tickets went on sale at 6 p.m. Monday and only five tickets remained by 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 per vehicle, $40 including two bags of popcorn and $50 including two bags of popcorn and a 16-inch pizza.
The limit on tickets is to ensure people get a good view, but access to the parking lot of the strip mall that includes Marcus Elgin Cinema, IHOP and Applebee's will remain open to the public, Smith said.
Smith said he rented the largest free-standing screen he could find, at 40-foot by 20-foot, from a company in Indiana. Sound will be broadcast on FM radio; the showing will be rescheduled if it rains.
City spokeswoman Molly Gillespie said final permit approval hasn't been issued but is expected as soon as details are worked out to comply with state guidelines for drive-in movies, including maintaining social distancing.
Old Republic, which opened in 2018 in the former Lone Star Steakhouse building, has been doing OK during the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said.
"Business is definitely down from what it was before the pandemic, but we are actually doing fairly well. We're very blessed for that. We have a great staff, great people here, and that's a big help."
The restaurant is part of a family-owned group of 12 suburban restaurants including Alexander's, Rookie's and Village Squire, many of whose staff members will be working at the drive-in, Smith said.
There will be a concession stand selling popcorn, candy and soda, and employees will take orders at the cars' windows. There will be portable toilets, hand sanitizer stations and police security.
"It's a fairly expensive ordeal," he said. "We'll have to see how we come out."
All employee will wear masks and any patrons who leave their cars will have to wear masks, as per the governor's executive order about drive-ins, he said.
Smith said it was easy enough to do this with his own movie, because he owns it. Doing this with other movies in the future would require getting the appropriate movie license, he said.
"If this is a success, we would definitely consider future events."