RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Here in Southern California, a company based in Mexico is expanding north of the border. It's a chain of movie theaters, and as reporter Amy Isackson found at one of its theaters in San Diego, it is very high-end.
AMY ISACKSON: When you step into Cinepolis, it doesn't look like a movie theater. Dave and Kris Litvak say it's more like a chic hotel.
MONTAGNE: It looks, you know, kind of young and hip, and it looks like a fun place to come.
MONTAGNE: I mean, from what it was, it looked like a, you know, horrible kind of movie theater, to now it's modern and it's elegant.
ISACKSON: Cinepolis has raised the bar. The lobby floors are dark hardwood. There's an art gallery. General Manager Antonio Garcia points to people sipping cocktails at the bar.
MONTAGNE: We have an extensive wine menu with 40 different wines. We also have an extensive drink list from Chile mango martinis to Cinepolis Magnificent Margarita.
ISACKSON: When asked where they think the concept originated, people in the lobby have nearly as many guesses as there are flavors of popcorn on the menu.
MONTAGNE: I would guess France.
MONTAGNE: China? Greece? From Europe.
MONTAGNE: Honestly, I'm not even sure.
ISACKSON: That's Kris Litvak, Julie Brewster and Jenny Flannigan. When Kristen Blakeman finds out Cinepolis is from Mexico, she's surprised.
MONTAGNE: Typically, things go the other way, as opposed to this kind of luxury coming up here from there.
MONTAGNE: It's always been, like even since I was a little kid, explaining to people that we don't necessarily drive burros and eat tacos every single day.
ISACKSON: Carlos Wellman grew up in Mexico City. He's managing Cinepolis' expansion in the U.S. Cinepolis began in Mexico in the late 1940s. It's now the world's fourth-largest cinema chain. Even so, Wellman says it was tough to open on this side of the border.
MONTAGNE: I mean, how are you guys going to do theaters if we invented the cinema, right?
ISACKSON: Enrique Hernandez is an attorney in San Diego who specializes in helping Mexicans do business in the U.S. Cinepolis is one of his clients. He says there's a new generation of Mexican businessmen eyeing the U.S. market.
MONTAGNE: The small companies of the young entrepreneurs, they say, I have the vision. I have the energy. I'm not afraid of the U.S. I actually feel very comfortable in the U.S. market. I have a good product, and I can be successful there.
ISACKSON: Hernandez says many of these businessmen, like two of the Cinepolis USA partners, get graduate degrees in the U.S.
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ISACKSON: Back at the movie theater, Cinepolis director Carlos Wellman says he hopes the theaters help expand people's perception of Mexico.
MONTAGNE: There are surprising companies that people aren't necessarily aware of that come from Mexico - the education, the culture, the population. And we hope this will set a standard.
ISACKSON: For NPR News, I'm Amy Isackson, in San Diego.
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