Irving—Sam Thakkar fondly remembers seeing movies at a drive-in theatre while growing up in his native India.
In the late 1950s, Texas was home to around 400 drive-ins. However, by 2019 only about 20, including Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth and Galaxy Drive-In south of Dallas in Ennis remained.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, several pop-up drive-ins, including one in Richardson, Carbaret Drive-In, which shows a mix of movies and live shows, have opened in DFW.
Thakkar is CEO of Perfect Group, owner and operator of Fun Movie Grill, which has locations in Carrollton, Irving and Richardson, also recently followed suit, turning the parking lot of Irving Macarthur Marketplace (8505 Walton Boulevard) into a drive-in.
“The biggest challenge as we open our doors is to figure out this COVID-19 situation. People obviously are worried,” Thakkar said. “They are getting tired and bored. We wanted to find them entertainment which can still allow them to be socially distanced and at the same time not have any COVID-19 issues. So, I thought what if we could work our 700-car parking lot to a drive-in option?”
The drive-in held a soft opening on June 19 and its grand opening June 26, showing ‘Irresistible,’ a new comedy starring Steve Carell. Judging from the early feedback he and his employees received, the drive-in is a hit with Irving residents.
“So far, the feedback we are getting on Facebook from people posting things and wanting to come to this place, people calling and finding out how they can get access to the drive-in option has been tremendously nice,” Thakkar said. “People are really excited.”
However, not only the public is elated about the new drive-in, Fun Movie Grill employees are also ecstatic, because with traditional theaters still operating at reduced capacity, the addition of the drive-in gives them the opportunity to work more hours amid the pandemic.
“Absolutely, they’re excited. They like that we are being proactive rather than trying to be reactive,” Thakkar said. “Compared to any national cinema chain out there, we are being proactive and addressing the current issues and concerns. At the same time, employees are excited to be back at work and be able to start getting out of their houses.”
Most drive-ins allow customers to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets, so they can spread out near their vehicles to watch movies. However, that is not an option in Irving, since allowing patrons to bring chairs and blankets and spread out does not facilitate social distancing.
Another drive-in fixture in the past was the ubiquitous, often bulky speaker moviegoers would attach to their driver side window to hear the movie’s sound. However, the days of those cumbersome speakers are now a thing of the past since most if not all drive-ins now broadcast their sound over an FM frequency which patrons can then tune their car radios to.
One universal rule at every drive-in is that no outside food and drink are allowed. But there is plenty of great food available like chicken wings, burgers, and pizza plus Indian staples like kulfi and samosas.
Throughout the week, Fun Movie Grill has various specials like $5 tickets and $5 menu items on Monday, 50 percent off popcorn and drinks on Tuesday, and buy one get one free tickets on Wednesday.
Beginning the week of July 1, the drive-in will show movies nightly and customers will also be able to order food from their vehicles on an app.
Prior to the pandemic, DFW had only a smattering of drive-ins. At one point, Coyote had opened a second drive-in in Lewisville. However, that location closed in 2018 due to a lack of traffic at that location just off State Highway 121.
With the recent success of Carbaret in Richardson and the early returns of Fun Movie Grill’s drive-in being favorable, Thakkar is optimistic about his drive-in’s chances of becoming a fixture alongside his traditional theaters.
“We will see how it goes. But we are considering seeing if we can work this as a long-term solution, give customers the option to watch [movies] inside and outside,” Thakkar said. “We are in the process of converting our inside theaters after COVID-19 situation is complete to a full recreation center which includes bowling, laser tag, arcade and movie theaters. At the same time, people will also be able to go to the drive-in.”