When one walks inside a Cinergy complex, straight ahead is the gaming room, and off to the left is a large redemption store. Toward the back through the gaming room is the bowling alley. On the right side, there’s concession stands and the entryway into the movie theater. On that same side, there’s a bar with TVs and an outdoor patio.
Benson describes the menu as chef-inspired American favorites, similar to what one would find at Chili’s. Some food examples are fiesta tacos, brisket nachos, southwest salad, burgers, and pizza. As for beverages, there’s margaritas, blood Mary, beer, wine, old fashioned, and more. Some items are named in conjunction with movie releases, like the Kong Burger (Godzilla vs. Kong) and the Nope Blue Sky Chilton cocktail (Nope). The concession stand has the typical hot dogs, popcorn, and candy.
“When people come to Cinergy, they're really coming for cheat day. We offer salads, but they're not best-sellers,” Benson says. “We figured out pretty quickly that most people eat a burger, chicken tenders, or pizza. Those make up about 80 percent of our sales. There are other dine-in theater chains that try and have edamame or steaks and pastas and salmon and high-end entrées to eat in a dark movie theater. We could put that stuff on the menu, and I can guarantee you it would not sell.”
Plans for the Greeneville, South Carolina, location are almost finished, but there will be a minimum 90-day delay until construction can begin. Benson says the true number is likely six months. The project will take 14-17 months to complete, which is more than the usual 11-month timeline. The extension is due to the same reasons other concepts have faced—difficulties obtaining material, like rooftop air conditioning units and steel.
In terms of how Cinergy picks locations, Benson works closely with vice president of real estate Kade Pittman, who he hired 14 years ago at Movie Tavern. The brand primarily looks for underserved markets that don’t have a movie theater recliner presence. Benson says he has the management team to build nationwide, although he’d prefer areas that support direct flights from Dallas-Fort Worth.
Benson doubts Cinergy will ever franchise because of the complexity. It takes upward of 200 people to run a venue and costs $20 million to $25 million to build. Some have asked about licensing opportunities. Benson would consider it if the right person has experience with entertainment, movie theaters, and gaming, not to mention the financial wherewithal.
“I have to be honest, I think most of the FEC guys get scared away from our segment of the business because they don't know anything about the movie theater component,” Benson says. “Our Cinergy model, which I think is magical is certainly more complicated than even a Main Event or Stars and Strikes.”
Cinergy’s outlook is quite the turnaround from 2020, which Benson describes as a “dark period” for the brand. Customers stayed home and the Hollywood movie pipeline dried up. The company worked with banks and landlords and laid off employees. Cinergy had a location in downtown Kansas City under development at the start of COVID, and it still hasn’t restarted construction. The brand benefited from a Shuttered Venue Operator grant, but didn’t receive money until nine months after the bill was signed into law.
It was a year and a half of being “lean and mean” Benson says. And while Cinergy was unable to apply for the Top Family Entertainment Center of the World last year because it didn’t open any locations, Benson is still confident in the brand being one of the best in the industry.
“I'm just excited to be back from the pandemic, and have guests return with the smiles on their faces. We're just glad to be doing what we do again,” the cofounder says.