Mike Schoder is calmer than a well-fed cat in the 'burbs, but don't let that fool you. There's nothing complacent about him. The owner of the Granada Theater and the adjoining Sundown at Granada, Schoder could easily be mistaken for a surfer bro, thanks to his long golden hair that he keeps pulled back into a ponytail. But he sounds a little bit like Iggy Pop and, appropriately for a businessman, he has an insane memory. Attention to detail is key.
Today Schoder is relaxing at the Sundown on a late summer afternoon. He's just gotten off the phone regarding some upcoming renovations to the theater, but he's laid back as can be. When you own two businesses with 60 employees each, this is just another day at the office.
Popping up from his chair, Schoder makes his way around the grounds, heading upstairs to the second floor bar area. It's alive with people mingling over post-work drinks. All around the venue are free-growing plants. Farm-to-table takes a whole new meaning when the restaurant grows its own. Schoder points out some kale, some kind of super-spinach, a vodka-infused plant that tastes like licorice and a leaf that tastes like the cocaine of sugar, or stevia. It's like farm-to-table meets Breaking Bad.
Schoder is Canadian by birth, but moved to the states after his father passed away. His mother remarried a Christian camp administrator. "If you ever went to a church camp when you were a kid, you know it's kind of like a rock show for an adult; you feel real free, you meet new people, you're in a new environment. So for me, I feel like it's full circle." Mike bounced between endless summer camps, one in Minnesota and the other in Florida. He grew up on sunshine, graduated and in 1986 made his way to Dallas to attend Christ for the Nations, where he minored in music -- something he'd always been passionate about. "Been here ever since," he says.
Then Schoder makes his way over to the Granada. It boasts new floors fresh with TrueCoat, Audrey Hepburn worthy bathrooms and ornate gold trim. The huge green walls are affixed with half-century old murals showing genres of film from documentary to fantasy, a nod to the fact that the building was opened as a movie theater all the way back in 1946. One such mural features a rocket-ship blasting around the moon -- truly a fantasy at that time. The venue is especially clean for holding vast remnants of rock 'n' roll.
"When I first moved to Dallas," Schoder continues, "I worked at the Anitole Hotel -- from '86 to '91 -- and I realized I wanted to own my own business. I didn't know what I wanted to do; just something here that I'd enjoy. If everybody did what they loved, there would be more artists, more people going to see art of all kinds. I think people would happier. I want to follow what makes me happiest." So like anyone, he started his adventure into the music industry with a humble bang.
When he set out on his own, Schoder started a bit smaller than the Granada -- like car-sized. Using only a finger-painted PVC sign that read "CDs $6.99," an '87 Toyota Supra and an assortment of carefully selected CDs he purchased for $3-$5 from pawnshops, Schoder would set up for business off the southeast corner of Greenville and Park Lane from around 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. "It got to the point where I was selling a hundred to two hundred CDs a day. Some of the best money I ever made," he says with a grin.
Record stores started to decline, he recalls, around the year 2000 when file sharing began to emerge and disc prices dropped. Still, he wanted to keep on with music. "All I've ever done my whole life is witness music," he explains. "I was a poor kid growing up. The focus wasn't, 'Go get an education and make a bunch of money.' We were raised in a different environment, creating a place where people could have a heightened sense of themselves, and their relationship to the earth, and the creator, or God, or you know, their family. So it's not about the money. It's about working hard to create the best experience." To keep that alive, right around 2004, Schoder started looking for a venue.
He found his opportunity along Greenville Avenue. Pat Snuffer, the founder of the restaurant Snuffer's, was overseeing the Granada's lease. It was hardly being put to use and Pat perhaps didn't have the time or drive to make it happen. Schoder did. He says he signed the papers right around his birthday, June 11, and then endured five days of insomnia fixing up the inside. The Granada Theater opened under his care on August 18, 2004, transformed into a full-fledged concert venue. He can look back now at 10 whole years of being in business.
"It's hard work to promote art. It's been my hope to create a venue with characteristics that draw people to it -- you know, friendliness, cleanliness, organization, transparency," he insists. "Mostly, it's been awesome to be able to run this venue like a resort. We're living. We need excitement. There's not repelling or surfing in Dallas. So how do you get your thrill? Do some biking, do some yoga, go to a show. "
Some modifications he's overseen include the new floors, a 32-piece light rig, a new state of the art sound system, stage and bathroom renovation and soon there will be new screens added to the list. There's hardly a square foot in the Granada that hasn't been revitalized by Schoder's vision, yet it retains its rich historical DNA. It's a timeless space, where multiple decades and segments of culture coalesce naturally in a warm, dark womb of artistic expression.
Yet for a seriously as he takes his charge of running the venue, he sums up the job simply. "Fun," he says, looking down almost bashfully as he says so. To him, "The whole point [of The Granada] is to make people happy." "It's a choice you make when you say to yourself, 'I'm going to go to that show,' where you open yourself up to that experience," he adds.
If Schoder has made that his mission over the past decade, it's one that he shows no signs of giving up on any time soon. "I'm going to be in this neighborhood for the rest of my life, doing what I'm doing. I want to help create community here," he says. Hopefully he has many more decades ahead of him for making people happy.
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