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The Continental Restaurant owner Paul Kourkoulis explains how a Hollywood filming crew and cast of actors picked his family’s 70-year-old eatery to shoot scenes for an upcoming movie

a traffic stopper
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~ The Advocate Asks ~

  Editor’s Note: It’s not every day that a cast of Hollywood actors and a filming crew and support staff visit a Saugus restaurant to shoot scenes for an upcoming movie. But that rarity happened this week when The Continental Restaurant noted on its digital sign that it would be closed from Feb. 22 (Tuesday) through 4 p.m. yesterday (Thursday, Feb. 24) for filming of the movie “The Holdovers.” So, how did this all come about? While the cast and film crew were shooting some movie scenes on February 23, Paul Kourkoulis agreed to sit down with us in an area coffee shop for a half hour interview to answer questions about the experience of renting out his restaurant for a Hollywood movie scene. His father, Athas, bought the restaurant in 1983. Paul, 57, of Middleton, took over as the principal owner and president of Continental Restaurant of Saugus, Inc. more than two decades ago. His dad, though retired, continues to be an officer of the corporation.

  “I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole life,” Paul says. “My dad put me on a milk crate when I was 10 and said, ‘Start doing the dishes.’”

  Paul grew up in Vermont and graduated from Essex Junction High School in 1983. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Providence College (1988) and received his Juris Doctor from New England Law School in Boston (1991). He was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in December of 1991 and his status as a Saugus attorney remains active.

  Highlights of this week’s interview follow:

  Q: So, how did this all come about? Did you get contacted, or did you have to put in for it, saying that you were interested?

  A: No. I’m not the type of guy to go out looking for it. My hostess called me and said there was a woman here that wanted to talk to me about doing a movie at the restaurant.

  Q: When was this?

  A: This was back in December, maybe November.

  So, I talked to her on the phone and we exchanged contact information. We negotiated back and forth. An entourage came from LA to look at all the various sites they chose for the movie. I guess that was her job: She goes around and looks at different areas that the director might like. So, I think she picked, maybe, four or five restaurants; she picked Angelica’s, too, and went there. Then they set up a meeting with the director and whoever he brings with him to take a look at it and decide if they are going to pick it. They came to the restaurant one day and said they loved the site (The Continental Restaurant), and they said it was just what they were looking for.

  So, we started the negotiations back and forth. I thought it was going to be in March, but then they pushed it up to February. So, we negotiated back and forth for a fee and that’s how it was decided.

  Q: The fee, I’m sure you don’t want to talk about a figure …

  A: I do not.

  Q: But it was probably more than what you could have earned during the three days they rented the restaurant?

  A: Yeah. They were very fair. I think they know what it costs to operate a business – the staff, losing hours – and we came to a good agreement.

  Q: So, this is, like, four years after your restaurant had been scouted out before for a movie. I heard yesterday (Tuesday) that it was back in 2018.

  A: Yeah. I guess they weren’t as aggressive. This time, this girl really wanted to talk to me. The hostess actually called me directly on my cell phone and said, “Someone wants to talk to you.”

  Q: This guy I talked to yesterday said he had scouted it out. And for some reason, they didn’t get a response back.

  A: Yeah, so now they say I am probably on the list of locations for future movies if they ever want a restaurant.

  Q: So, were you aware at the time – back in 2018 – about a movie crew that may be interested in using your restaurant?

  A: No. I don’t think I really got the message. The hostess must have just written it down on a piece of paper, and I just thought maybe it was just going to be a commercial. I didn’t think it was going to be for a motion picture.

  Q: So, what is the draw for something like this for a movie filming site?

  A: I just think it’s the appearance of the restaurant. We’ve been there since 1952. The place hasn’t changed much. I mean we’ve upgraded and redecorated, but we’ve always kept that old restaurant feel to it. The booths, I think, are probably from the 60s, and I had them reupholstered in their early 2000s. And it was basically the same tufted leather – the same exact look – so anytime we try to redecorate the restaurant, we try to keep it the same. We never tried to go modern or anything like that. We always try to keep the feel for our customers, because they are loyal, and we like them to come back. Sometimes when you try to attract new customers, you lose the customers who are really loyal to you. We try to maintain our longtime customers.

  Q: Have you gotten to meet any of the actors or the cast yet?

  A: I haven’t met anybody personally. I haven’t really asked. I met the director and we spoke for a little bit.

  Q: You will probably get some courtesy photographs autographed by some of the actors.

  A: Maybe. But I don’t know. I am not one to ask.

  Q: That would be something nice to put on your wall.

  A: Yeah. I’m going to see, maybe, when I get back to the restaurant today, maybe, if they would. I don’t know. But we’ll see.

  But it’s exciting; it’s amazing to see just how extensive the planning is and the execution of the plan for however few minutes – I don’t think it’s going to be much – maybe four or five minutes in the movie. And just to see the magnitude of the equipment and the staff and the servers and the actors, the extras … it’s something to see – all of the cords running through the restaurant out to the trucks. They bring their own bathrooms with them. They bring their own restaurant with them. They feed everybody.

  Q: And they make sure the whole restaurant is clean. Like last night, they came with air filters.

  A: Yeah. Yesterday was to set up, so they brought whatever props they needed, and they changed a lot of light bulbs for the lighting, and they made sure the floor was clean.

  They removed some of the decorations, like some of the flower arrangements, and then they just made it the way they wanted it. They gave it the look that they wanted. It wasn’t a big change, but they did move some of the pictures. They had to put some Christmas decorations up because the movie happens around Christmas. And the big trucks all showed up last night and today [Wednesday, Feb. 23] was the shoot day. Tomorrow, they’re going to clean up and they are going to be out by 12:30.

  Q: So, they are going to be working till tonight, filming?

  A: I think so. I asked how long they are going to be there, and they said they expected to be there til about 8 (p.m.). I think they might be doing a few scenes in the restaurant.

  Q: I notice the wine bottles on each of the tables. Is that similar to what you have?

  A: No, not really. They’re the old Chianti bottles with the straw wrap. So, they want to give it that feel in the time period – 60s or 70s maybe – early 70s.

  Q: Come to think of it, when I looked at them, I thought I haven’t seen these kinds of wine bottles in years.

  A: Yeah. And, well, if you noticed the ash trays, how they put ash trays with a match in the ash trays. So, they wanted the old look. We had newer salt and pepper shakers, but they changed all of the salt and pepper shakers. They go down to every little detail. I really don’t know how much people are really going to see it all. But they make sure they really got it all, just the way they want it.

  Q: What was with the steam ironing of the table cloths? I noticed a lady was busy running the steam iron over all of the white table cloths.

  A: Well, they used our table cloths. And when you get them from the linen company, sometimes they don’t fold them right. They still have creases in them because they were folded. And I think she was just steaming them to get all of the creases out so it was perfect.

  Q: Yeah, that was pretty interesting. She did every table cloth.

  A: Ah, for the place settings, they had a roller to make sure the place settings were just perfect, you know.

  Q: What were some of the other interesting things in the preparation that you noticed?

  A: Well, they didn’t do much, because they said the place looked the way they wanted it. They really didn’t need to, because they were pretty impressed with the way the place looked. They didn’t need a lot of props. You know, they changed the cash register. They got one of those old-fashioned push-button ones that makes the big ringing sound. That’s about it.

  Q: It’s been pretty crowded at the restaurant parking lot today.

  A: Ah, like I said, it’s amazing to see how many people it takes and equipment it takes to film a movie out of a studio. Basically, they moved their entire studio. There was somebody there looking at the cameras and monitoring everything. There’s a director monitoring it. Everybody – sound guys – they all see the scene, and they all yell out, “Okay, everything is all set. Sound good.” So, they’re all logged into iPads, watching the scene.

  How they do that? I don’t know. It’s pretty impressive. They work it well. And there’s people in the kitchen, preparing the food for extras who are sitting around the table. They actually had some of our waitresses, too. Some of our waitresses tried out, and they brought two of our waitresses for extras.

  Q: You have two extras from the restaurant who may or may not be in the movie?

  A: Right. But I think they are going to be in it. Whether you see them or not, I don’t know. They’re definitely serving food to the extras. Whether they serve the actors – I didn’t see any of that.

  Q: That sounds pretty exciting to watch it all.

  A: Yeah. It was pretty exciting.

  Q: So, this is something that you didn’t apply for …

  A: No. I just think they liked how the place looked, and it was exactly what they wanted in the period that they wanted it in. They wanted to make it work, and I was willing to make it work.

  Q: Now, what’s the benefit for a local restaurant to do something like this?

  A: Sometimes, I thought of the disadvantage because of your clientele. You’ve got to let them know, so we did the best we could for the customers who were there, and we put it on a sign to let them know we were going to be closed for a couple of days.

  Q: I saw some of your customers last night.

  A: Yeah, they started coming in and they’re upset. And you’ve got to take that into consideration. But I think by just seeing the traffic on Route 1, lots of people are slowing down just to see what’s going on. I received probably 10 texts during the first couple of hours: “What’s going on down there? What’s going on down there?”

  But I think people who saw they were filming at the restaurant … people who maybe never have been to The Continental before are going to check it out. So, hopefully, it’s beneficial.

  Q: It certainly gives you visibility.

  A: Yeah, it certainly does give us visibility. When the movie comes out, whether people will be able to tell whether it’s The Continental or not, I don’t know, but just the idea of thousands of people driving by and seeing what’s going on – it’s definitely going to pique their interest. Whether it’s going online looking at The Continental to see what’s being filmed there, yeah, it puts it in people’s minds, I think.

  Q: So, do you have any thoughts about putting a little placard where one of the movie stars sat, saying “So and so sat here?”

  A: I don’t know about that, but I would like to try to get a picture and put it on the wall, but we’ll see. We’ll see.

  Q: So, you’ll probably get to see some of the actors at some point.

  A: Yeah, if I pursue it. I’m probably going to go down later to close the restaurant when they leave. I’ve met the director, so I’d like to say “Hi” to him and see if he can take me around to meet the actors.

  Q: Well, if you succeed, please send me a JPEG of a photo.

  A: I will. I will. But I don’t know. But they’ve been pretty staunch about not wanting people outside to know what’s going on.

  Q: When’s the last time, if you know, when a Saugus place got visited by a Hollywood movie crew?

  A: I don’t know of any. I really don’t know of any.

  Q: Somebody from the movie crew went down to Town Hall yesterday to do some kind of registration.

  A: Yeah. A guy was saying they had to get an occupancy permit for the restaurant; they had to get food permits for the catering; I think, a health inspection for the bathrooms they had in the parking lot – and make arrangements for a police detail. We had to shut the alarm system down because they wanted to use fake smoke to give it the appearance of a smoky restaurant, so the Fire Department had to come. One guy came to shut the alarm down. So, there was a fire detail there all day. They had to get about six to seven permits.

  Q: Do they share much with you about the movie and the plot and whatnot?

  A: No, they don’t.

  Q: So, you probably surfed the Internet to see what you could find out?

  A: I surfed the Internet and that’s about it; I probably know as much as everybody else does.

  Q: So today you saw some of the actors who were involved?

  A: Yeah. Paul Giamatti … he was there. And the other ones I really don’t know too well. There’s a young kid … I haven’t really seen him before.

  Q: They’re pretty protective of the whole movie set. Because yesterday, I asked one of the crew, “Do you mind if I take a picture with nobody in it, of one of the booths in here,” and he got uncomfortable.

  A: And they were like that yesterday when you went in?

  Q: Yeah, and there was somebody texting from Town Hall, telling the staff, “You should ask him to leave.”

  A: I think that’s the production manager.

  Q: I had reached out – “Can I talk to a contact person? I’m doing a story.” But they were not interested in telling me much of anything.

  A: I found myself in the same situation. They didn’t tell me much either.

  Q: There was an interesting crew in last night. I don’t know if you got to talk to any of them. There was one guy who spent some time in Nahant. He was the guy who put in the recommendation for your restaurant four years ago.

  A: Oh, he did? No, I don’t know him. I wonder which one it was. Well, they got my contact information now, so if somebody wants to use my restaurant again, they will be calling me.

  Q: So, you would do it again?

  A: Sure, I would do it again. Yeah, I think it would create a lot of buzz, and I think it’s good for the town.

  Q: Did they tell you why they wanted your restaurant for this particular movie?

  A: Yeah. They told me they loved the restaurant just the way it looked. And they said you don’t find a lot of restaurants that look the way this does. A lot of them get these high-end designers and go modern. But we’ve kept The Continental pretty close to the period when it opened. We try to keep it as clean as possible and updated as possible, but still give it that old look.

  The guy last night said, “We were really surprised because when we walk into a place there’s usually 10 boxes of props that we have to carry in a huge box with all kinds of stuff.” But when they arrived with the props, there was only one box that they had to bring in, so they really didn’t have to do anything, so that’s why they really fell in love with the restaurant. It was, like, “We don’t have to change anything.”

  They had all the booths and tables set up. Everything was set up, even down to the dinnerware. We have a floral pattern on our dishes. And they went with those. That’s what they were using. They didn’t bring those props in.

  Q: So, the wine bottles …

  A: No. Those weren’t mine. Those are props. I think those are hard to find; I don’t think you can find them anymore; I haven’t seen those in years.

  Q: What else can you share about what went into this filming and what you observed? The most interesting things?

  A: Just how they all worked so well together. I probably had 50 people in the restaurant, and they all seemed to know what they were doing and what goes on. They all worked well together. It seemed they know what everybody’s duty is. When they’re filming, they know who had to leave and who comes in and who’s supposed to be on the set and who can’t be on the set. They’re running a clean ship, a tight ship. And I guess they’ve got to because they’ve gotta get it done in a day.

  I can only imagine what it must cost to do a five minute scene or a four minute scene. My parking lot had three acres of trucks and equipment and people. It’s got to be expensive.

  Q: And you’ve been down there today?

  A: Yeah. I was there earlier.

  Q: And it was all full in the parking lot?

  A: The parking lot is full. You’ve got some workers who drive their own cars, and then you got all these 18-wheelers and food trucks and box trucks and all of the equipment trucks. I mean, just for this small scene, they need everything – and the equipment inside and the cameras and monitoring systems. And they don’t even use our restrooms and they’ve got their own.

  Q: And you got all of that traffic driving by on Route 1 North – curious drivers – who are saying “What’s going on?”

  A: Yeah. “What’s going on?” I got a lot of texts today.

  Q: Anything else that you would like to share about this experience?

  A: It was kind of exciting. I got to see how the movie industry works. It’s nice to see how they work so it’s beneficial to them.

  But they’re very fair: They work well and they’re understanding. They don’t come and say, “We need this and this.” They’re very understanding about when they can do it and what time they can do it. And the contract about putting everything back in place, leaving it the way they found it – so they seem very fair.

  Just the professionalism is pretty impressive. The site person finds the place, and they bring an entourage of people to decide if that’s going to be the place. When they do decide, they will bring about 17 people to go over the whole restaurant and see what needed to be changed. And all the notes they take – they come prepared.

  Q: Did you have competition from a lot of other people?

  A: For the movie?

  Q: Other restaurants – for this particular movie set.

  A: I don’t know. I think when they saw The Continental they decided, “This is it.” And they didn’t try to negotiate with anybody else. And I think it was probably easier for them because they wanted to get the same feel. I don’t know where they’d find a place like The Continental.

  Q: Anything else?

  A: I think the staging area is the Square One Mall. I think they were in Somerville filming at one time.

  Q: So, they’re doing filming there at the Square One Mall, or just storing stuff?

  A: I’m not sure. I just think they’re keeping a lot of their equipment in the Square One Mall.

a pleasant experience
A PLEASANT EXPERIENCE: Initially, The Continental Restaurant owner, Paul Kourkoulis, said, he felt bad about having to tell loyal customers that his restaurant would be closed for much of three days this week while a Hollywood filming crew and movie cast and staff worked inside. But Kourkoulis said he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. (Saugus Advocate photo by Mark E. Vogler)
tools of their trade
TOOLS OF THEIR TRADE: Some of the equipment used by a Hollywood film crew that took up space in the parking lot outside The Continental Restaurant on Wednesday (Feb. 23). (Saugus Advocate photo by Tara Vocino)
recruited by the movie industry
RECRUITED BY THE MOVIE INDUSTRY: Paul Kourkoulis, owner of The Continental Restaurant on Route 1 North in Saugus, says Miramax, which acquired the rights to the upcoming movie “The Holdovers,” approached him late last year with interest in using his restaurant to film a movie scene. Kourkoulis shared his experience with The Saugus Advocate this week during an interview in a Middleton coffee shop. (Saugus Advocate photo by Mark E. Vogler)
a traffic stopper
A TRAFFIC STOPPER: Traffic was sluggish and slow on Route 1 North most of Wednesday (Feb. 23) as curious drivers passing by The Continental Restaurant craned their necks out the windows of their cars to see why the restaurant parking lot was full of cars and trucks. A police detail was stationed at the site as a Hollywood cast and filming crew worked inside the restaurant for the upcoming movie “The Holdovers.” In this photo, staff prepares food for the cast and crew on a food trailer in the parking lot. A production trailer is parked nearby. (Saugus Advocate photo by Tara Vocino)

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