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Santikos Brews Up New Beer With Freetail, Teases New Locations

Six months ago over pizza and beer, representatives from Santikos Enterpises and Freetail Brewing came up with an idea.

“We started talking about our companies, and how we have… so much in common, in that we’re both locally owned and we give back to the community,” explained Freetail’s president, Bill Sisoian, touting his company’s contributions to the San Antonio Zoo through sales of their Conserveza beer, among other philanthropic gifts.

“Let’s help each other do something good for the community,” agreed Santikos CEO Tim Handren. “And that was where the whole idea hatched.”

That idea became Legacy Lager, a new draft beer that’s now available in all Santikos theaters.

The Legacy Lager is so named to honor the legacy of John L. Santikos, former owner of the theaters. Following his death in 2014, all profits from Santikos theater operations are given back to the community through the aegis of the San Antonio Area Foundation.

The beer is light in flavor and color, and as Freetail’s head brewer, Cody Welch explains in a promotional video, also has a “slight breadiness.” It conveniently pairs well with a variety of theater snacks.

“We tried lots of different beers,” explained Handren. “We had a bunch of bartenders from Santikos theaters and we all voted, and the bartenders picked this beer. They know what people like.”

Legacy Lager is a new beer being offered by Freetail Brewing at Santikos theaters.
Jiawen Chen
Texas Public Radio
Legacy Lager is a new beer being offered by Freetail Brewing at Santikos theaters.

But since March, 2020, the amount Santikos has contributed to the community has been zero, due to the downturn in theater attendance during the pandemic. That’s about to change, as moviegoers flooded back into theaters nationwide over Memorial Day weekend to see “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Cruella.”

“Almost 70,000 people came through our theaters that weekend,” said Handren. “That gets almost to 80% of normal.” Noting all the delayed releases from 2020, he added excitedly, “We have a whole year of movies that’s going to be coming out in the next six to seven months.”

Concluded Bill Sisoian of the partnership between Santikos and Freetail, “We’re thrilled to be here today.”

Read on for an extended interview with Tim Handren as TPR’s Nathan Cone checks in with him on theater operations, and soon-to-open theaters where Santikos is taking over former Alamo Drafthouse locations. Interview edited for length and clarity.

Nathan Cone: I wanted to ask you also about your theater operations and how they're going right now. I think that a lot of people in the industry were pleasantly surprised by how well “A Quiet Place II” did just recently when it opened. How did that do for Santikos, and how does it track with what you told me back in December when you hoped Santikos gets to “50% of normal” this year? What are you thinking right now at this point in time?

Tim Handren: I'm glad you remember that number! So when “A Quiet Place II” came out, and “Cruella” came out too… almost 70,000 people came through our theaters that weekend. That's far more than 50% of normal. In fact, that gets almost to 80% of normal. So maybe we were a little bit pessimistic, but we had a reason to be pessimistic back then. People are ready to get out, and when “Quiet Place II” came out, it opened almost at what its pre-pandemic estimate was. And then what's interesting about it is, it also flowed into week two. And last weekend was a great weekend as well. We had almost 60,000 people come through the theater. Again, that's almost a pre-pandemic normal weekend for us. So I guess what I see is, we're excited about the trajectory we're on. People want to get back. They want to be entertained. The fact that you could watch a zillion things at home on your couch, people are sick and tired of it. I know that we've had good feedback from our guests as they've come back to the theater, and there's unbelievable amounts of movies that are going to be coming out over the next nine months. All the stuff that was held back in 2020, they pushed back to now. So we have a whole year of movies that's going to be coming out in the next six to seven months.

NC: What are some of the measures that you are keeping in place that were put in place during the pandemic that you think guests are still appreciating now?

TH: You know… our employees, we gave them an option. We essentially are following the CDC guidelines at all times. And so I put an incentive out to my employees, if you want to get vaccinated, I'll give you a bonus. And by the way--follow the CDC guidelines. If you're vaccinated and you don't want to wear your mask, that's OK. Almost all of our employees continue to wear their mask, which is interesting. I think our guests appreciate that. We've left some of the Plexiglass that's in place around here. I asked, "Hey, what if we take that down? How would you feel?" (And I always ask my employees how they would feel.) They feel like it's just an extra layer that they think people appreciate. And so we've left that in place. One thing that we're going to keep in place also is we kind of have gone to this touchless payment. No cash changing hands. I think that's going to stay around for a long time. So what we've done--I won't call that cashless, because we have a machine where you can trade in a twenty dollar bill, or hundred dollar bill, for a gift card. And that's essentially a debit card. I think that [idea] stays around forever.

NC: So we referenced a moment ago, you said you [originally] hoped for 50% of normal for this year. What's your revised estimate? What are you hoping for the rest of 2021?

TH: That's an interesting question, because I have debates with my staff on this. About a month ago, they had already changed their forecast that through the rest of this year that we would be at exactly 50% of a normal year. 2019 was a big year for us. $5.4 million. So they had [originally] estimated $2.7 million [for 2021]. I said there's no way that's going to happen. They're telling me now that the number is going to be north of $3 million for this year. That would be awesome. And what's really good about that is that gets us back into profitability status, and we can start giving back to the community, which is what we want to do.

NC: It was great news to hear that y'all are taking over the theater in New Braunfels [Alamo Drafthouse announced earlier this year they were permanently shutting down their locations in New Braunfels and Westlakes, in San Antonio]. I don't know if this is just something I kind of dreamed up in my head or not, but is Santikos retaking the Westlakes location, or is that something that's just like in the wind, that I heard?

TH: You must have good intel because that announcement has not been made yet!

NC: Somebody said something at some point, and I don't even remember where I heard it from!

TH: But if you're a betting man, you know… Alamo Drafthouse walked away from that theater. They announced that they aren't going to go back. They had actually put brand new recliners in that theater, I think, in November of 2019. And when they walked away from that theater just two months ago, they took all their recliners out! So the good news is we talked to all the Alamo Drafthouse landlords. We know exactly what's going on. So maybe there is an announcement coming out in the next three to four weeks…

NC: Well, that's a good enough hint as I can imagine. Thank you so much, Tim.

TH: Thank you very much. Thanks for your time.

Jiawen Chen
Texas Public Radio

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