What do you get when you combine a cinema with a café with a community meeting place? You get a cultural synergy known as an “art house.” You get the Corazon Café and Cinema. It’s a place where you can wine and dine while catching an indie film or foreign flick. Or you can just stop in for lunch. Or hang out for a special-event night. Even with all this, the main feature that makes this place special is its owner, Karla Wagner.
A fearless optimist, Karla bought the 125-year-old building on Granada St. in early 2014. After eight months of basically “gutting the place” followed by a total renovation, the view-n-chew venue opened in Sept. 2014.
“I love the small town feel of knowing so many of the people who come in. Sometimes it feels like Mayberry,” she says. “I love the community support and the connections I’m making with local groups to put on special events.”
Karla exudes hospitality as she remembers names and welcomes patrons like guests in her home. She spends a great deal of time there, overseeing both the day and night shift. But it’s a choice rather than a chore. It energizes her.
“I’ve had a lot of wonderful jobs. I’ve been in banking, in software, and sales. But I think it’s all about passion. When you find it, you just come alive. Now I’m go-go-go and excited about everything. I love being here and doing this,” she says.
Buying the cinema came together by serendipity. After 27 years of visiting St. Augustine, she and her husband bought a house here in 2012. She loved that it was within walking distance of the former Pot Belly Cinema. When the Pot Belly soon closed and the building went up for sale, the idea for a big career change just seemed written in her life’s screenplay.
She brought in experts for the major stuff, but the inside décor was a DIY job all the way. She picked out every chair, put up every curtain and painted every wall. Well, along with some painting help from her chefs Joe and Tami Abel. The result is an eclectic, club-type atmosphere, complete with Jack Daniels whiskey barrel tables and comfy armchairs.
“In the art houses I knew as a kid in Winter Park, everything was very odd, nothing was uniform, and nothing matched. That’s what I wanted, too. I didn’t have a designer. It’s just a work in progress,” she says.
The venue houses three theaters. One seats 108 in traditional theater seating. The other two are café-style, holding 55 and 70 respectively. Movies range from second-run mainstream flicks, to foreign and indie films.
“I’m trying to show films that break the mold,” she says. “The foreign films are like being able to experience all these different places and culture without having to travel.”
The café stands alone – no movie ticket needed to grab a fresh bite for lunch. Offerings include home-made light fare, such as wraps, movie-themed sandwiches and salads.
Corazon, by the way, means heart in Spanish. It is aptly-named both because it’s located in the heart of St. Augustine and also because of Karla’s heart for this venture.
TRIVIA: Wednesdays at 7:30pm with quizmaster Reed Johnson. Prizes for the top three teams.
COMEDY: Every second Tuesday of the month, with host-comedian Casey Crawford and 3-5 stand-up comedians. $5 cover.
THROW-BACK THURSDAY: Noon (and sometimes 6pm), a classic movie, a sandwich or a salad, popcorn and a small drink for $10.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Elvis week, Star Wars Marathon, Local Honey, Oscars Viewing Party, St. Augustine Film Festival venue, once-monthly Environmental films and much more.
MEETING ROOMS: The theater rooms are available to rent for any special occasion or meeting.
PARKING: Diners and movie-goers can park free – a rare and appreciated downtown bonus.
For information and movie times, visit the Corazon Café and Cinema online.