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Moltons sell Flat Rock Cinema

Bryan Byrd, the new owner of Flat Rock Cinema, Howard Molton, the seller, pose at the theater. Bryan Byrd, the new owner of Flat Rock Cinema, Howard Molton, the seller, pose at the theater.

FLAT ROCK — A part-time music producer and emcee and fulltime real estate agent, Bryan Byrd now presents his next act. He’s plunged into “the experience business” as the new owner of Flat Rock Cinema, the beloved movie house Barb and Howard Molton opened 17 years ago.

“Howard and I have been friends and colleagues for quite some time,” Byrd said. “We had a conversation one day about his future and he has always felt like a steward of this community treasure here at the Flat Rock Cinema. He shared with me that at some point if he doesn’t find the right person to take over as steward and owner of the cinema that he’d probably end up putting it up for sale.”

Byrd didn’t like the sound of that, until it came to pass that he was that right person.

“Besides being a patron of the cinema, once I saw a movie here I couldn’t imagine wanting to see a movie anywhere else,” he said.

Byrd wanted to make sure Flat Rock Cinema fans understood that “it was clear that this was a positive thing for the Moltons, and in this case, it was just a win-win.”

Molton said he “absolutely” agreed with that.

“I could not have hired a better person to take over and continue what we’ve built,” he said. “It kind of happened by accident with Bryan. Barb and I had started talking about our exit strategy after 20 years since we bought the Skyland Art Cinema and I was trying to figure out how can I do this without telling everybody.”

Buyer and seller agreed on the single highest priority: Don’t change things.

“It’s better than it’s ever been, it’s more profitable, it’s great,” Molton said. “We really want to thank the community for supporting us through it all — from digital conversion to Covid, just riding those waves with us through all those years. Our staff was our family. … I have to give Barb the credit. I just showed up to help with the seating. She ran the place.”

Although the core values won’t change, Byrd hopes to stage live music performances, making the theater “a place where local and regional musicians can play where people actually sit down and shut up and listen to the music and you don’t have to play over a brewery crowd. What he used to call the Magnolia Concert Series — I’m going to be bringing something like that back.”

He’s keeping all the menu items that have proved to be popular — hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken salad and barbecue — while aspiring to add pizza. That can be challenging, he acknowledged, because “we really have about 30 minutes to get up to 72 people fed and seated before the movie starts.”

“Part of my arsenal in the back of the kitchen is I still have a pizza oven and then I also have a convection oven,” he said. He’s getting advice from friends that own restaurants “to come up with the best way to bring pizza back by the slice.”

A born showman, Byrd looked during a sold-out showing of “Oppenheimer” on Sunday night like he was having the time of his life serving up hot dogs and popcorn, pouring pints and chatting up patrons.

“Job No. 1 is to protect this legacy business, so four days a week, two shows a day, bringing in quality first-run movies,” he said, “and then from there having the opportunity to utilize those other three days for things like live music and more private events.”