On Dec. 10, 1978, an electric mix of intrigue, anxiety and desperation crackled throughout the airport in Tehran. Revolution was coming, and Iran was on the edge.
Hamid Hashemi, at the time a 19-year-old medical student from the University of Isfahan, advanced through the aisle of an Air France flight bound for New York. Despite the pain of leaving everything behind, the brave Iranian knew he had no choice. Either stay and be trapped, or leave and find freedom elsewhere.
A few weeks later, the Persian kingdom collapsed, its ruler replaced by the hardline theocracy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution. For millions of Iranians, including Hashemi’s own parents, a curtain of isolation had fallen.
When he arrived in America, Hashemi spoke little English, but he “learned [the language] watching ‘Sesame Street.’” In 1981, he graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in microbiology and settled in Fort Lauderdale.
He quickly hit his stride buying and flipping residential, then commercial, real estate. A $200,000 investment in a commercial property that included his first three-screen theater led him to the cinema industry at 25 years old.
It was a short-lived gambit, however—a rival company moved into the area and opened an eight-screen theater, putting him out of business. He was undeterred, though.
“You learn so much more from your failures than your successes,” he reflects. “You can either pack your bag and go do something else, or you can take what you learned [and] go figure out how not to fail.”
From 1985 to 1995, Hashemi went on a shopping spree, buying up independent theaters throughout the South Florida area, using capital raised from local investors. At the same time, Blockbuster was rolling out. “Because of Blockbuster, everybody thought theaters are going to be out of business, so they were selling them really cheap,” he explains. In 1995, he founded Muvico, a chain most familiar to Boca Raton residents thanks to Muvico Palace 20 on Airport Road (today, it’s owned by Cinemark).
Ten years later, Hashemi exited Muvico in 2005, the same year his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Amid her decade-long battle, Hashemi dove back into the industry, this time piloting a brand new concept: iPic. What began as a single Wisconsin location in 2007 has spread to 16 theaters today, in states including New York, California, Texas and Florida.
In Palm Beach County alone, there are two—one in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park, and the newest just off Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, which rolled out its red carpet in March. It’s equal parts movie theater and art gallery, replete with bespoke pieces like a massive outdoor mural by Wynwood Walls artist Peter Tunney.
In an age when ticket sales are under attack by Netflix and most theaters have become cesspools for sweatpants and chicken nuggets, iPic has pursued an “urban country club” approach, Hashemi says. He’s targeting “young adults, empty nesters, [and] young professionals that are going out all the time,” seeking a plethora of entertainment options concentrated in one place.
That means creating a magnet that attracts people to see a movie, but holds them by offering so much more. iPic in Delray features a cocktail lounge that would be equally at home at a luxe South Beach hotel; and plush, reclining seats arranged in a private pod configuration. Guests choose from a menu of hand-crafted cocktails and made-to-order dishes like lobster rolls, tuna on crispy rice and filet mignon sliders, which are delivered directly to their seats.
Impressive, considering it was all dreamt up by a man who stepped off a plane 41 years ago with just $700 in his pocket, and not a single friend in America. One might say it’s a story that sounds fit for the silver screen.
In spite of his success, Hashemi insists he’s far from finished. Eight new iPic theaters are under way with another 10 sites in development. “Everything I’ve done has been built around experiences,” he concludes. “I fell in love with providing a good entertainment destination for people, and that’s what I’ve done all along.”