Indie Focus: Vine Cinema & Alehouse

Image Courtesy of Vine Cinema & Alehouse


Responses by Kenny Way, Owner


The Vine Cinema opened on December 26, 1956, and has been open almost every day since! We were even open during our extensive renovation in 2001, and during our many seating renovations over the years. I started as a snack bar employee in 1989 as a 16-year-old kid that only got the job because my two best friends also applied! We went through several different ownership groups through the years, but I was always part of the operations since I became the G.M. in 1996. I became involved in the ownership in 2000, and then became the primary owner/operator in 2012.

In late 2007 we had an all-digital 13-screen competitor open up less than a half mile from us. While we tried to compete for the next 18 months, we knew that the writing was on the wall unless we drastically changed our concept. In 2009, we got our beer and wine license, started selling food, and started showing art house and indie films. Getting a beer and wine license a decade ago in California was very challenging, and it was a big deal back then. We decided to re-brand our cinema by adding the “Alehouse” to our name, and we also started showing live major sporting events when allowed and hosting classics nights a few times a month. It took about two years for the concept to take hold, but it eventually did, and the rest is history!


We have two screens, with the large house holding 272 seats and the small house at 165 seats. We have performed well this year with Rocketman, Yesterday, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Downton Abbey, and Judy. We also had a wonderful run with The Peanut Butter Falcon, as we were the second-highest-grossing cinema in the entire San Francisco Bay Area for the five-week run that we played it.

I have fond memories of playing Midnight in Paris, as it was the first really high-grossing movie for us after we switched exclusively to art house films, and we kept it for 16 weeks—still a record for our cinema. The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Descendants, Brooklyn, and La La Land are our five highest-grossing films of the past decade.

We use Exhibitor Support Partnership (ESP) as our booking agent, and they are, simply put, the best in the business—especially for art houses. Through the years as our grosses have risen, we started getting product quicker and quicker. A combination of wonderful new art films, along with a sprinkle of classics nights and community events has been the secret to our success and has made us unique.


We have wonderful, loyal patrons who have a passion for watching films at the Vine. Our theater attracts both mature adults and younger “date night” patrons looking for the complete dinner and a movie all in one location. The Vine is extremely community-oriented. We do many special events, local premieres, and free community-outreach events. We are so, so very different than cookie-cutter corporate movie theaters all around us, and our community knows that and appreciates it. I get asked all the time to consider opening up “another Vine” in other towns that our faraway patrons live in, which is great to hear because it means they appreciate how unique the Vine really is.


For us, advertising and promotion in the age of social media have become both challenging and rewarding. Since so many of our clients are seniors, we still do the traditional newspaper advertising when it is not overly expensive. But social media has allowed theaters that work hard at it to be very successful marketers. We have almost 8,000 Facebook followers, 1,000 Twitter followers, and 1,200 Instagram followers. Having employees that are knowledgeable in this area really helps out. We always try to partner with local businesses and groups when we play a film that is a natural fit. This is an easy thing to do and is usually very profitable. We also have a weekly email newsletter, a VIP loyalty card program, and a text messaging program that we work on diligently. We are also very proud of our Yelp reviews, as we have 4.5 stars with over 300 reviews. Yelp is yet another arrow in the quiver to work with in regard to driving attendance to the Vine.


We feel that our beer and wine license, along with the change to art house and indie films, saved the Vine, since they both happened around the same time back in 2009. Our food is not knife-and-fork dependent, as we try to keep it simple for our patrons eating in the dark. Our chicken tenders, burgers, flatbreads, and salads all sell very well. We are in the heart of the Livermore Valley Wine Country, which is possibly second only to Napa for quantity and quality of wineries in California. Serving wonderful local wine and beer has been very profitable for us, and supporting the local companies makes it that much better.


Spotlight Cinema Network has been a game changer for us. I ran across their ad in a trade show magazine and called them up, and immediately they were excellent to work with. Ronnie Ycong and his team are very professional, easy to work with, and easy to get in touch with. Our pre-show program a few years ago was unprofessional and not at all profitable for us. After switching to Spotlight, we now get tons of compliments on how relevant the pre-show is. We also have been able to replace the lost revenue that went away when our VPF program stopped—through the advertising revenue we now earn from our local and national ads.

Image Courtesy of Vine Cinema & Alehouse

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