Action... suspense.... thrills!
The marquee lettering is up, announcing that the will open Aug. 31 with "The Bourne Legacy," the fourth in that series of hold-your-breath films.
But even though it's the much-anticipated opener – or reopener – for the one-screen movie house on North Avenue, it's only one film.
The real action, and some suspense, too, is behind the scenes. And the proprietors are thrilled to see how it will fly.
The action is a new approach to running a small cinema or two in a world of multiplex theatre operations who have 18 screens per location and 800 overall.
The suspense is in making that approach work – film after film after film, without letup – while also ramping up and amping up the food and beverage service.
To those ends, owner Lee Barczak hired not one but two managers for the Rosebud as well as for the , which is expected to open again in late September.
Barczak brought back Larry Widen as his film manager, the man who had for years, under former owner David Glazer, been buying studio rights to first-run movies at the Rosebud and eclectics and classics at the Times.
But Widen is pleased that now that will be his principal focus, with major help on the other side of the business.
A hospitality expert on board
"I was doing everything," Widen said, "and I am not a restaurant guy – I'll be the first one to tell you, I don't know how to run a restaurant. But he does."
"He" is David Gigl, hired as general manager from the hospitality industry to take care of the amenities that make Rosebud different and special.
"We're taking it to the next level," Gigl said. "We're like the dynamic duo, between the two of us.
"We're taking our areas of expertise and we're combining them to have the ulitmate experience in the end product."
That product may in simplest terms be a dinner and movie combined, but in the actual execution it has to be something much more complicated and compelling, the two say.
"What we put up on the screen is important," Widen said, "but ultimately, for us, it's everything else that gets wrapped around it. It has to be an experience like no other.
"The big guys with 800 screens don't see us as competition, frankly. But we have to see them as competition, because we have to offer something that they don't."
Gigl has been hiring and training staff for the operation, which will employ at least 12 people at the Rosebud and 20 to 22 once both locations are again in operation.
He's also been testing menu items, searching for the perfect selections in a challenging atmosphere – food that is delectable even in the dark.
He's challenged themselves even further by doing away with the deep fryer.
"I've been trying some things I think are going to be exceptional," Gigl said. "But if they don't take off, that's OK. They'll go away and we'll find what customers want."
A new brand under an old name
Gigl referred to the process as "rebranding," even though the name and concept will remain more or less the same.
"We're creating a corporate structure of consistent quality," he said, "but without losing – in fact building – that neighborhood feel.
"We're calling this the Neighborhood Theater Group. It's the Rosebud, the Times, eventually the Avalon (in Bay View).
"The name means we're committed to those neighborhoods, but we're going to offer a very high-end, destination experience, and we think people will come from far and wide to enjoy it."
"It's going to take off like a rocket," Widen interjected.
To the extent possible, besides regular movie showtimes the two Wauwatosa area theaters will be available for private affairs, including fundraiser events for not-for-profits.
A charitable group can "put out an e-mail blast, sell the tickets and make $1,000 in a night," Widen said. There will also be cross-marketing opportunities with any and all interested North Avenue and area businesses, Widen and Gigl said.
"We want to be part of building not only a profitable business for ourselves but also part of building this business district," Gigl said, "so that it's good for everyone."
Walking the walk as a local theater
As a sign of commitment, Widen is even willing to take a bit of a chance on his second feature film. The Rosebud's grand opening, on Sept. 7, will add the film "WaterWalk" to the lineup – filmed in Wisconsin and Michigan with some local producers and talent.
"WaterWalk," despite its local connections, got only two nights' play here at another small theater, Widen said. He thinks it deserves more, and he's promising some special guests for the big night.
It's a chance he, Barczak and Gigl are willing to take to let Milwaukee know that the Rosebud, and soon the Times, are back and fully engaged in the community. But it is, after all, a chance.
"We're living on a really skinny chicken here," Widen said. "The guys with 18 screens can afford to put up a dog now and then. I can't. I can't have a dog up there for two weeks, not even once in a while.
"We have to be perfect, if we can be, or as good as anybody could be. We're in this for the long haul."