Dinner and a Show: Main Event Grill & Catering Creates Performance Space
The stage at Main Event’s Club Room has hosted musicians and comics, and owners Bill and Kimberly Fischer hope a theater company will entertain diners, too.
Eateries are in no short supply anywhere in Alaska, and Anchorage has a thriving theater scene. Both together is a rarer combination, which is why Main Event sees an opportunity.
Having an Experience
Staging dinner theater at its venue on 76th Avenue is simply the next logical extension of a rapidly growing business.
Bill and Kimberly Fischer started catering in 2016. After the caterer for their own wedding failed to show up, they helped others with theirs. After volunteering for an event attended by 350 people, they realized they should charge money and start a business. They converted an RV into a food truck, and by 2019 they also had a kitchen to supply a booth at the Alaska State Fair.
“We did better at the Fair than we did the entire year running the food truck,” Kimberly says, so they added seating at their storefront. The restaurant opened in February 2020—just before dine-in service was shut down due to COVID-19. Bill set up a barbecue and served outdoor tables, and somehow the business survived.
“We have amazing employees, amazing customers,” Kimberly adds. “We had people we didn’t know that would come in and go ‘Here’s $100. We just wanna make sure you guys stay open.’”
Not only did it stay open, it expanded. Main Event Catering became Main Event Grill & Catering, and the business took over part of the bingo hall next door. That space became the Club Room, a special events venue with seating for 211.
The Fischers and their thirty employees could make a living by renting the Club Room for parties or to music or comedy performers who supply their own audiences, but those types of events point toward new possibilities.
“Foodies eat for an experience, and they want to enjoy a night out, having an experience,” Bill says. “It’s something different, and we need different.”
Bars have music, Williwaw Social and 49th State Brewing Company in downtown Anchorage blend food and entertainment, but dinner theater is a genre unto itself. Scripted drama presented to restaurant patrons was an established circuit until a decline set in by the mid-‘80s. In 2000, there were fewer than a dozen such venues across the country, mostly specializing in murder mystery games or faux wedding receptions.
That was the low point, and dinner theater has slowly regained some popularity. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Anchorage can support one.
David Block, a drama teacher and artistic director of Midnight Sun Theatre Company, is exactly the kind of independent producer that the Fischers would want to team up with. He directs the Rondy Melodrama, which has some similarities to dinner theater, and he stages plays from time to time in whatever venue he can find.
However, one such attempt a few years ago was disappointing and frustrating. His own script for a Klondike-era melodrama spoof was performed at the now-defunct Hard Rock Café in downtown Anchorage. Block credits the restaurant with naming drinks and dishes for characters, but cooperation beyond that was slim. The café seemed unwilling to urge customers on the main floor to go upstairs and see the show, so performances were poorly attended.
“I do not want to get into a relationship with another venue where I don’t feel like they feel that their success and my success are tied together,” Block says. “And I think that has been the problem here in Anchorage.”
Organizations Have to Mesh
One of the last dinner theater attempts in Anchorage, Dr. Fortean’s Klondike Gold Elixir and Wild Big Alaska Show!, co-written and directed by David Block, featured (left to right) Nick Lynch, Annika Merkel, and Chris Mendoza performing at Hard Rock Café.
Block also acknowledges a complaint on the café’s part, which is that it had no idea how much food to prepare for the audience. He figures that problem can be easily solved by a unified ticketing portal that sells admission to the show and a meal option as a package. “The two organizations have to mesh,” Block says, “and we did not have this at the Hard Rock.”
He also warns that Anchorage has a relatively fixed number of regular theater patrons, yet the community has a disproportionately large number of theatrical producers competing for a slice of that audience. Therefore, Block suggests dinner theater should be geared toward tourists.
The Fischers aren’t interested in that idea, noting that their location is far off the tourist track. They point to the thirty-three-year run of the Whale Fat Follies at the defunct Fly By Night club in Spenard (which, incidentally, also had a farewell run in the Hard Rock Café) as a model for long-term success.
“You gotta keep things fresh and new and can’t have the same-same every week,” Kimberly says.
Bill adds, “We find someone who knows how to do it and knows how to put it together, it can work.”
The Fischers explain that Main Event Grill & Catering are looking for a production company that would cover its own expenses, and then the venue would take a cut of the door revenue, as opposed to a flat rental of the stage.
Even if Block is not the one to do it, he says dinner theater in Anchorage is doable with the right formula. “I think the idea of having a standing dinner theater company that does something is awesome,” he says. “I hope they can be successful, but it’s going to be a challenge.”
Main Event Grill & Catering has been overcoming challenges ever since opening a restaurant at the start of the pandemic. Opening the Club Room itself was a calculated risk. “About 90 percent of our business is to-go, and I felt like [COVID-19] was going to be the new normal,” Kimberly says. But Bill believes, “When COVID’s done, people are going to want a place to go and party.”