Just in time for the Lion King, Proctors has gotten rid of the biggest creator of complaints at the theater: the Muddy Cup.
The in-house coffeehouse was better known for its long lines than its drinks. During Broadway shows, the manager would often schedule just one person to work the counter, creating lines that stretched out into the hallway. Many patrons could not make a purchase during intermission because they never got to the front of the line.
In recent years, the Muddy Cup also began restricting the use of credit cards, would often post handwritten signs pleading for cash, and cut back noticeably on its products. At times, it had only a few pastries for sale.
Proctors CEO Philip Morris said he asked the owners to improve service many times.
“We’ve been talking about service issues for quite some time,” he said. “It was slow, especially during heavy times, show times, so it didn’t meet the needs of the patrons. And sometimes it wasn’t very good. We want to be very good.”
Recently he began negotiating to buy them out, convinced that they were not interested in changing their business. They finally agreed, and the coffeehouse closed Tuesday.
He had to not only pay them to leave, but take over their $50,000 Schenectady Local Development Corp. loan, which has a balance of $32,000 at 7 percent interest. Morris also bought all their equipment. Now, he needs to hire workers to run the coffeehouse, while also setting up vendor contracts for food and drink.
Proctors has taken over and created many performance spaces, but the company has never done something like this before.
“I don’t think this is a cakewalk for us,” Morris said. “But we know how the building changes in any 18-hour period.”
He may lease it to an operator later, but he wants to try running it himself first and see if he can make it work. If Proctors keeps control, Morris can make sure the business provides the level of quality he wants, rather than being forced to negotiate for changes.
He wants it to be far more than a coffeehouse.
“Sometimes we have to be a really fast diner and a place to grab lunch before a matinee,” he said. “It’s not really just a coffeehouse. It’s really a cafe for a performing arts center. Matinees, events, before the shows, intermission — it’s only a coffeehouse when it’s not doing any of those things.”
He plans to add sandwiches and other light meals, but a menu has not yet been determined. The space will reopen for limited service Sunday, but not because Proctors will be ready by then.
The customers coming to the Greenmarket — which has vendors set up throughout the space — will expect coffee, Morris said.
So he’ll have coffee, but probably not much else.
“It probably won’t be much more than the old place did,” Morris said, calling it a “gentle mode” and not a true opening. “We don’t think we’re going to be fully functional for a number of weeks.”
He has exactly four weeks to get ready. The Lion King will open on Feb. 22 and stay through Mar. 20.
The show was a major motive for taking over the space, Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said.
“Especially with Lion King coming up, you just don’t want people to have a bad experience,” he said. “A lot of people don’t do dinner before the show. They just get to the show early and they want something light.”
He added that the Muddy Cup owners didn’t want to leave.
“They wanted to stay. They were doing very well. It’s a built-in audience. You’ve got thousands of people in your lobby, how could you not do well?” Gillen said. “Philip wanted the space back.”