SARASOTA -- Area moviegoers will need a fork when they catch a flick at a new movie theater next year.
Cobb Theatres' CinéBistro will open a seven-screen cinema with a full bar and restaurant inside the Westfield Southgate mall in late 2015.
The Birmingham, Ala.-based theater chain confirmed its arrival Monday morning, taking over the Saks Fifth Avenue space after the store left for The Mall at University Town Center in October.
Cobb Chief Operating Officer Jeremy Welman said the mall location is attractive because it is within the core of the company's market and has seen a significant number of customers from Bradenton and Sarasota travel to its other properties in Wesley Chapel and Tampa.
"They pass traditional theaters to come to us because they can have an experience that's really unavailable in other areas," Welman told the Bradenton Herald in a phone interview.
The 35,000-square-foot theater seats just under 100 people in each auditorium with wide leather recliner chairs, and offers a chef-driven menu complete with wait staff as well as traditional movie snacks. The location also includes a bar and patio. Because CineBistro is heavy on the bar and upscale experience, its events are generally limited to customers 21 years old and up. The restaurant section is open to diners of all ages.
"We have servers at your beck and call, and deliver food and beverages," he said. "You can have a great salmon dish and risotto or have your traditional movie food like a diet Coke or Twizzlers. We don't discriminate. After the movie starts, we disappear because you're there to see a movie."
The adult audience also means the first-run and independent films shown focus on dramas, romantic comedies and other genres that demographic prefers, Welman said. Also, valet parking will likely be offered.
Demolition is expected to start in January and February and the cinema should be open by the end of 2015.
Cobb's arrival places more competition on existing nearby theaters including the Regal Hollywood 20, just 2.5 miles away, the Carmike Royal Palm on State Road 70 and U.S. 301, AMC
at Westfield Sarasota Square, Lakewood Ranch Cinemas and Burns Court Cinema, which all show first-run or independent movies.
Welman said he would like to be part of the Sarasota Film Festival, held annually in April, but discussions have not started. The majority of movies during that festival are shown at the Regal Hollywood with special showings at the Sarasota Opera House and Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
"I can only suspect that yes, there will be conversations," Welman said. "We'd love to be part of the festival whether as a screening venue or parties. It will be a natural fit for that."
The overhaul is part of Westfield's larger plan to renovate the mall after stores like Williams-Sonoma, Gap, Dillard's and Saks Fifth Avenue departed, leaving Macy's as the only anchor for now.
"Westfield Southgate recently invested over $8 million in the revitalization of the center, as part of the transformation to a resort inspired, boutique shopping center," said Jim Ralston, general manager of Westfield Southgate. "The addition of CinéBistro is part of the next phase of that ongoing evolution, bringing an intimate, luxury entertainment experience to the market, and catering to the discerning and sophisticated taste and style of the Westfield Southgate customer."
When renovations are complete, Westfield will rename the property Westfield Siesta Key, focusing heavily on dining and entertainment. A BRAVO! Cucina Italiana restaurant has also been previously announced.
Benderson Development purchased the Dillard's building in October for $10 million and is studying Westfield's redevelopment plans before announcing a replacement for the shuttered store, which also left for the Mall at UTC.
CinéBistro has seven locations in the U.S., and a new North Carolina location is slated to open in 2014 with additional locations coming soon in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Miami and Baltimore. A family-friendly version of CinéBistro called Cobb Luxury 10 Theatre will open in St. Petersburg's Tyrone Square in 2016.
"Cobb has a great track record of opening CinéBistro at various locations across the country, and we are very happy to have them join Westfield Southgate and our successful lineup of retail brands," Ralston said.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.