ORD - An obsolete movie theater has turned into the latest night spot in Ord and the lunch crowd seems to enjoy it, as well.
Brian Magiera and his wife, Kelly, bought the former Valley Cinema, and after nearly two years of complete renovation, it is set to celebrate its completion on Friday.
The Blank Slate Theater in downtown Ord now is not only home to a top-notch restaurant, but also is able to host live entertainment on the stage.
Brian Magiera said their original thought was to take the theater back to its roots of a live theater venue. The building, built in 1927, was designed with a stage, orchestra pit and dressing rooms. While most of that was taken out as the building changed uses, the Magieras were able to recreate the look, with some additions.
When they dug out the basement, they decided a kitchen would fit nicely down there and added a restaurant to the plans.
The Blank Slate will host events such as weddings, concerts, comedy acts, local theater productions, Husker football game viewings and even live gun auctions. Magiera said he doesn't necessarily have a passion for guns, but he found that it is a niche that could be addressed. Local auctioneers have noted that they often will have one or two guns from an estate sale that can't be sold by someone without a special gun license, so the Magieras are obtaining theirs.
"It's just another way to draw people in," he said, adding that with their audiovisual equipment, they will be able to also show the auction live online.
They still plan to show some movies as well as the screen will be able to be rolled up out of the way for live performances, but Magiera said showing movies in a one-screen theater isn't a profitable business anymore.
"People just don't go to movies anymore," he said, adding that they can't compete with on-demand Netflix and other entertainment that comes directly into the home. Also, in order to show current movies, Magiera would have had to invest in a digital projector, which would have cost about $120,000.
"I just couldn't rationalize it. It just doesn't make financial sense," he said of the new projector.
"The idea behind the variety of events that we can host is that it will pay for the doors to stay open, it will pay for the staff," Magiera said. About 26 employees, both full and part time, are on the payroll, and he plans to hire a couple more wait staff and bartenders.
The Blank Slate has been serving food since May and has a full menu as well as a bar about where the concession stand used to be.
The menu features farm-to-table creations by Executive Chef Jerry Hicks. A native of North Carolina, Hicks has been working with Nebraska farmers and ranchers to source as much Nebraska-grown products for the menu as possible.
"I would say as much as 90 percent of my fresh veggies come from O'Neill," Hicks said, adding that much of his meat comes from NorthStar Farms in Fullerton and Bassett and the local flour from Wauneta Mills. "As much as possible is farm-to-table."
They also are becoming well-known for their sushi bar, available every night.
"I didn't know how well it would be received here in meat and potato country, but we have a lot of people who come just for the sushi," Magiera said. "His sushi is fantastic. I'd put it up against any sushi in Grand Island."
Other favorites include flatbread pizza and Friday's prime rib night.
Along with using Nebraska-grown goods, Hicks also bakes fresh bread daily, including Cuban rolls, focaccia bread, Hawaiian kaiser rolls and occasionally sourdough.
"Our goal is to be a known venue in the national farm-to-table food movement," said Hicks.
David and Dianna Quick of Ord said they enjoy eating at Blank Slate because of the good service and good food.
"We probably come more than we should," David Quick said with a laugh as he ate lunch there earlier this week.
"It's reasonably priced," his wife added.
Magiera pointed out that each item on the lunch menu will cost you less than $10. Meals on the dinner menu are in the $12 to $25 range.
Magiera has invited the public to a ribbon cutting, dinner and entertainment this Friday to showcase the renovated building.
"This is an opportunity for us to pull out the stops and show off a premier venue in Central Nebraska," Magiera said.
The dinner menu for the event will include items that have become customer favorites: pork tenderloin with a ginger apple compote and a brandy demi-glace; prime rib; or chicken picatta.
Magiera said they did the renovation as inexpensively as possible, buying used fixtures, doors and moulding at auction from a closing golf course and Magiera doing much of the carpentry work himself.
Even so, he said the entire project cost about $800,000 and although he received a $106,250 Community Development Block Grant, which he had to match, he still ended up putting his life savings into the project.
But Magiera's goal was to create a destination for young couples in Grand Island or Kearney.
"It's only an hour and 15 minutes from Grand Island. People from here are always going there for entertainment. Now they can come to Ord," he said.
If you go...
Blank Slate grand opening
When: Friday ribbon cutting at 4:30 p.m., followed by cash bar at 5 and dinner and entertainment at 6.
Where: 129 S 16th St., Ord - west side of the square.
Tickets: $25, includes dinner and entertainment.