Inside the IPIC CEO’s cinematic journey to the forefront of upscale moviegoing
Hamid Hashemi has an origin story that’s right out of the movies.
The future cinema CEO originally intended to enter medicine: As a 12-year-old in his native Iran, he witnessed his grandfather have a heart attack, so he wanted to become a heart surgeon. After three years of medical school, he fled his birth country on the cusp of its revolution, emigrating to the United States in 1978 with $700 in his pocket, unable to afford med-school tuition. Settling down in Iowa, he learned English by watching “Sesame Street” and “Three’s Company,” delivered furniture on weekends, worked the night shift at a hotel, obtained a real estate license.
He moved to South Florida in 1980. A few years later, he purchased a three-screen cinema in Coral Springs, and was hooked. A self-made businessman with a knack for capturing the zeitgeist, Hashemi would develop a dozen cinemas in the area, and more than 40 across the country. He created, and later sold, Muvico, taking inspiration from the grand movie palaces of the ‘20s and ‘30s, with their gilded architecture and themed interiors.
But if Muvico raised the bar for upscale moviegoing, his next and current venture, IPIC, has lifted it further skyward. Since their launch in Milwaukee in 2007, IPIC cinemas have run counter to the bigger-is-better ethos of the average multiplex. The theaters are intimate, with eight screens or so, and with a few dozen seats per screen. The leather seats recline, and each one is equipped with a blanket, pillow and movable table. Complimentary popcorn is provided with every ticket purchase. In-theater dining is accessible with the push of a button embedded in the table, and server ninjas swoop in with orders of artisanal cocktails and gourmet finger food.
Boca Raton audiences have been enjoying IPIC since the brand’s Mizner Park debut in 2012, and now Delray filmgoers finally have an IPIC of their own. In March, IPIC Delray Beach opened its doors in the new Offices 4th and 5th project, a multistory, mixed-use complex in the former Delray Beach Public Library space. It is the first cinema approved within the city limits in 40 years.
Ease and comfort, the pillars of Hashemi’s mission for IPIC, are evident before you walk through the door: Hundreds of parking spots are available at the attached garage, and when you validate your ticket inside, it costs only a dollar for three and a half hours. Outside the entrance from the garage, a sprawling mural bears IPIC’s slogan—“Change the Way You See Everything”—amid a collage of classic movie posters.
More than a dozen artists were commissioned to create site-specific work for the exteriors and interiors of the theater. On a wall in the lobby, vivid swatches of living Spanish moss emerge from holes like the remnants of a buried forest. Though this IPIC doesn’t have an in-house restaurant, visitors can sit in the lobby and order food and drinks from an award-winning chef; the sleek space includes a handful of swinging hammock chairs and a full bar.
In short, it meets the hype, though not everyone shared the expectation. When IPIC won the RFP for the space from the Community Redevelopment Agency, no-growthers voiced their concerns, and for three years the project was mired in permitting hell. It took another three to build it. But IPIC has already been a boon to the local economy, bringing up to 600 construction jobs and more than 250 staff positions to the community.
“It doesn’t matter what [our business] was all about, some people were going to fight it,” Hashemi says. “They just didn’t want any further growth. Our position is, we’re going to bring people to this town at the times when its slowest. The peak season for movie theaters is summertime. The tourists are all gone. We do 300,000 to 400,000 people a year. We bring a bulk when the seasonal guys are gone.”
Yes, the theater will tie up traffic on the congested Fifth and Atlantic intersection. But for movie-hungry locals in the city, IPIC offers both convenience and exclusivity—they no longer have to make the schlep to Boca, Boynton or West Delray. Soon, Hashemi says, they’ll be able to order food, as well as tickets, in advance, to ensure an even smoother night out.
As for the movies, expect a crystal-clear, acoustically immaculate presentation. If you want trendy bells and whistles, however, you might want to go elsewhere. “Our audience is more concerned about their overall experience, rather than the sensation,” Hashemi says. “Every few years there’s some technology that comes out that says it’s going to enhance the moviegoing experience—whether it’s IMAX, it’s 3D, it’s 4D, it’s moving seats. Our philosophy has been that, there’s no technology that’s going to make a bad movie into a good movie.”
This story comes from the summer 2019 issue of Delray magazine. Read more stories like this in our archives.