“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dreams,”
I’ve probably heard this line of dialog from Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory 100 times. That’s not hyperbole, I’ve seen it more than some of the films I consider my “favorites” because its a movie that continues to greatly influenced what I do at Gorilla Cinema Presents, The Overlook Lodge and Video Archive.
Much of it comes down to Gene Wilder’s performance. From his dramatic entrance scene where he tumbles gracefully into frame, delighting the crowd, to the more personal moments where he confronts Grandpa Joe. His performance embodies what we at Gorilla Cinema Presents try to do every day. I sum them up as 5 "Rules of Thumb" that any business owner should practice.
RULE #1 : Surprise People
This entire movie rests on the element of surprise. At Gorilla, we consider ourselves magicians. We always want to keep people guessing what’s coming next and when they come into the bars, we want real reactions. So from the design, to the cocktails, to the events we do, we want that element of mystery and wonder. We call it #ProjectingWonder.
There's is a well known anecdote that Gene Wilder improvised his dialog in the childhood-nightmare-inducing tunnel scene. He did this to get real reactions from the cast. Surprising kids is easy, surprising a bar full of jaded adults is complicated. That's the challenge that pushes myself and the team every day- resulting in things like hiring a professional Santa and filling #ThatChristmasBar [The Overlook] with bounds of fresh greenery during the holidays. Or gathering real actors and comedians to do a table-read of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child [guests got sorted into houses by The Sorting Hat at the door].
With every magical thing we do- we still want your experience to be welcoming and approachable. We connect people through the experiences we create. Part of our mantra reads: "for those who seek magic in the everyday" and its that personal touch that makes those experiences even more meaningful. Things like offering to charge your phone behind the bar or the staff noticing when you’re having a bad day. Equal parts magic and heart is a good rule of thumb because you want your guests to feel like they're a part of the magic.
RULE #2 : Create New Things
Although the testing room scene is where Willy Wonka claims to hide all his best secrets, it seems that the entire factory is one big inventing floor. I think a bar can be same way. Too many owners stifle creativity because it’s easier to just replicate what others have done successfully. That doesn’t push the industry forward, and is quite the opposite of what we do.
One of my favorite Gorilla Cinema Pop-ups was a screening of Willy Wonka with a coursed cocktail + dinner pairing that was timed to the movie. It was incredibly ambitious and I became obsessed with creating things like a lick-able wallpaper cocktail and a blue cotton candy cocktail suspended in a bubble. I didn’t know how I was going do it, but I knew it could be done. It wasn’t easy, and they were not the best cocktails ever, but I took a risk, and tried something new.
RULE #3 : Be Nice While Bouncing The Trouble-makers
“Where is fancy bred? In the heart or in the head.”
Even as the troubled children begin to run amok in his factory, Willy Wonka treats the worst of his guests with the best humor and brevity. I think we sometimes forget that as a bar, we serve a drug of sorts that can sometimes turn even the best of us into Veruca Salt for the night. It's important to have patience and make sure your guests get home safe.
RULE #4 : Mentor Someone or Everyone
As a bar owner, I have a particular vision that I'm trying to achieve but I know I cannot and will not succeed on my own. The movie is modeled around Wonka’s quest to find someone to take over running the factory and continuing that magic for the next generation of children.
Like Wonka, I've been preparing for this since day one of Gorilla Cinema and my model to get there is simple: have trust in the team and create a culture of creative leaders. I find people that share my sense of wonder and are as passionate about the brand as I am [beware of the Slugworths of the world, ready to steal your Everlasting Gob-stopper recipe].
When it comes to team members, it's important that everyone have a voice and is given the freedom to be creative. One day [like Wonka] I’m going to run out of ideas and want to pass the torch to the next generation of magic-makers. When that day comes, I will have already built a team of confident leaders ready to bring their ideas to life. As a business owner and mentor, if I can support their dreams and goals [and feel lucky to have their talent, even if they don’t end their career with me], I’ve done my job.
RULE #5 : Live Happily Ever After
“Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted…he lived happily ever after.”
The bar/hospitality industry is stressful. It's physically demanding, highly competitive and peppered with plenty of Slugworths. What keeps me going are those moments when we pull off something fantastic and wonderful. Over this past year, moments like the whole bar singing “Purple Rain” along with the movie, the [sort of] perfect balloon drop New Year’s Eve, or people line up around the block waiting to play Harry Potter Trivia. These things transcend traditional success, but are so rewarding.
As we continue this journey of Gorilla Cinema Presents, The Overlook Lodge and The Video Archive, I’m beyond happy with everything we’ve done. At the core of it all, the magic we create is found in bringing people together for something bigger than ourselves and creating a place where everyone belongs.
With the passing of Gene Wilder this week, I will probably watch Willy Wonka again; and much like every time I watch it, it will pull the same emotional strings as it did when I was six. I hope that it continues to spark my imagination and inspire the next generation of magic-makers.
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