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Customer service, 'vibrancy' focus for new cinema owners

Waitaki App

Ashley Smyth

26 June 2024, 3:30 AM

Customer service, 'vibrancy' focus for new cinema ownersGrace and Chris Rottenberry will be going the extra mile to ensure the success of their new cinema, which opens on Friday. Photo: Ashley Smyth

The new owners of Ōamaru’s cinema are excited about getting to know their new community.

Chris and Grace Rottenberry took over the cinema ownership on Monday (June 24), and after a quick refresh, will be re-opening 10.30am this Friday, for the long Matariki weekend.

The couple is originally from Australia. Grace's working background was in the supermarket industry, while Chris has about 16 years’ experience working in cinema,

“It's pretty much all I know at this point,” he says.

“We moved to New Zealand just over two years ago. I was working at Reading Cinemas in Dunedin, and then we decided to sell off our house in Australia and use that money to open our own cinema in Balclutha, which was opened 10 months ago now.” 

In Balclutha, The Riviera Cinema is at the stage where “it’s just turning over really nicely”.

Grace and Chris had heard Ōamaru Cinema was on the market, and decided it might be time to branch out.

They started discussions with former owner Sam Smyth back in January.

“It was only really about four weeks ago . . . they sort of came back to us and were like, ‘let's do it now’. 

“So it's been a bit of a mad rush, but we're up for the challenge.”

The couple have a manager in place in Balclutha, and are now in the process of trying to find a home in Ōamaru, with their two children Elijah, three, and Mia, 15 months.

The Ōamaru movie theatre is now called The Riviera Cinema Ōamaru

Chris believes the key to their success in Balclutha, which he hopes will translate to Ōamaru, is “always just customer service”.


“As cliche as that sounds. You get a lot of businesses that say, you know, we prioritise our customer service, but a lot of the time they really don't.

“A cinema is not an essential. It's not like we're a supermarket where people have to come, and especially in the times of streaming and all that sort of stuff, we have to go the extra mile to get people in . . . and yeah, that's what we're all about.”

Either Chris or Grace will be at the door when a movie session finishes, he says.

“You always make sure you've opened the doors and you stand at the door and greet everyone as they come out . . . It's just that little extra touch I think.”

There will be a few noticeable changes, such as post-mix soft drinks (served from a machine rather than a can), handmade choc-top ice creams, food/drink combos available, and a new online booking system with allocated seating - so both seats and snacks can be prepaid online.

“We're just trying to put a little bit more vibrancy into the place, if that makes sense.”

Chris and Grace have also introduced an annual membership of $14.50, which includes a free ticket, and members get access to discounted tickets, and other deals.

The cinema will be open seven days a week, with movies running from 10am to late most days.


“You'll see us here pretty much every day, and we did that in Balclutha for about nine or ten months. Grace and I were the faces there every day.”

Movie selection will be “anything and everything”.

“Whatever we can get our hands on pretty much,” Chris says.

“To start off with, obviously, going to the school holidays, a lot of children's products.”

Eventually the pair hope to screen art-house films alongside the more mainstream, but they will need to be supported.

“Our first 10 months in Balclutha we've shown everything just to feel out the market, and we will do something similar here,” he says. 

The Rottenberrys have employed three staff - after receiving more than 100 applications in 48 hours.

“It's the first time we've hired where we interviewed people via zoom, but we've never had the problem where we couldn't narrow down the ones we wanted.”

The couple also love to “event-ise” movies, such as a Ladies' Night, which might include champagne and popcorn on arrival, and hot nibbles, or a family fun day for a children’s movie, with face painting, colouring competitions, “all that sort of stuff”, Chris says.

“And we've already got some ideas for Halloween.” 

Grace loves working in cinema, it’s a place people go to because “they really want to be here”. 

“The only issue you have here, is disgruntled boyfriends who don't want to go watch a rom com. So you just offer them a beer,” Chris says.