Chuck E. Cheese
CEC Entertainment
Formerly
  • Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre (1977–1990)
  • ShowBiz Pizza (1987–1989)
  • Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza (1989–1993)
  • Chuck E. Cheese's (1994–2019)
Company typeSubsidiary
Nasdaq: CHKY (1981–1984)
Industry
FoundedMay 17, 1977; 47 years ago (1977-05-17)
San Jose, California, United States
FounderNolan Bushnell
Headquarters,
United States
Number of locations
568
Area served
Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America
Key people
  • Gene Landrum (original president and COO)
  • David McKillips (president and CEO)
ProductsPizza
Chicken wings
Cheesy bread
BrandsPasqually's Pizza & Wings[1] LankyBox Kitchen
ServicesArcade games
Birthday parties
Kiddie rides
OwnerApollo Global Management (2014–2020)
Monarch Alternative Capital (2020–Present)
Parent
  • Atari, Inc. (1977–1978)
  • Pizza Time Theatre, Inc. (1978–1985)
  • ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. (1985–1998)
  • CEC Entertainment, Inc. (1998–2020)
  • CEC Entertainment, LLC (2020–present)
SubsidiariesPeter Piper Pizza
Websitechuckecheese.com Edit this at Wikidata

Chuck E. Cheese (formerly known as Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre, Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza, and simply Chuck E. Cheese's) is a chain of American restaurants founded in 1977 by Atari's co-founder Nolan Bushnell. Headquartered in Irving, Texas, each location features arcade games, amusement rides and musical shows in addition to serving pizza and other food items; former mainstays included ball pits, crawl tubes, and animatronic shows. The chain's name is taken from its main character and mascot, Chuck E. Cheese. The first location opened as Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre in San Jose, California. It was the first family restaurant to integrate food with arcade games and animated entertainment, thus being one of the pioneers for the "family entertainment center" concept.

After filing for bankruptcy in 1984, the chain was acquired in 1985 by Brock Hotel Corporation, the parent company of competitor ShowBiz Pizza Place. The merger formed a new parent company, ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. which began unifying the two brands in 1990, renaming every location Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza. It was later shortened to Chuck E. Cheese's in 1994 and Chuck E. Cheese in 2019. The parent company, ShowBiz Pizza Time also became CEC Entertainment in 1998.

History

Pizza Time Theatre

Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre was founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who sought to expand video-game arcades beyond adult locations like pool halls to family-friendly venues.[2][3] His experience in the amusement park industry, and his fondness for the Enchanted Tiki Room[4] and the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland, influenced his concept for Pizza Time Theatre.[5][6] He has said, "It was my pet project ... I chose pizza because of the wait time and the build schedule—very few components, and not too many ways to screw it up."[7]

Prior to founding Atari, Bushnell would drive around the Bay Area with Atari co-founder Ted Dabney looking at different pizza parlors and restaurants to brainstorm concepts. "Chuck E. Cheese was always his (Nolan's) passion project, even before Atari was a thing," said Dabney. "He wanted to start a business of family-friendly restaurants with amusement park midway games. I think initially it made no fiscal sense, so he shelved it for a while, but then when Atari took off, he had the means to pursue it, plus a built-in distribution model for Atari's new releases."[8]

When his first animatronic show was being assembled, Bushnell learned the costume he had bought for his main character, a coyote, was actually a rat, prompting him to suggest changing the name from "Coyote Pizza" to "Rick Rat's Pizza". His marketing team believed this name would not be appealing to customers and proposed "Chuck E. Cheese" instead. The company adopted the rat as their mascot.[9]

The first Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre opened in San Jose, California, in 1977.[10][2][11] In 1978, when Atari's then-corporate parent, Warner Communications refused to open additional locations, Bushnell purchased the rights to the concept and characters from Warner for $500,000.[12] Gene Landrum then resigned from Atari and was made the restaurants' president and chief operating officer.[13][14] By the end of December 1979, there were seven PTT locations, six in California and one in Nevada (Sparks).[15] Its animatronics were produced fully in-house by PTT employees.

ShowBiz Pizza Place

Main article: ShowBiz Pizza Place

To expand beyond California and the west coast, Bushnell began to franchise, resulting in a co-development agreement between himself and Robert Brock of Topeka Inn Management in June 1979.[16] The agreement handed Brock exclusive franchising rights for opening Pizza Time Theatres in sixteen states across the Southern and Midwestern United States,[12] while also forming a company subdivision, "Pizza Show Biz", to develop the Pizza Time Theatres.[12]

Late in 1979, Brock became aware of Aaron Fechter of Creative Engineering, Inc. and his work in animatronics. In November 1979, he scouted Fechter's business and concluded that Creative Engineering's animatronics would be too strong a competition for Bushnell's work. Brock therefore requested that Bushnell release him from their co-development agreement, wishing to develop with Fechter instead.[12]

In December 1979 Brock and Fechter formed ShowBiz Pizza Place Inc., and Brock gave notice to sever his development relationship with Bushnell.[12][17] ShowBiz Pizza Place was conceptually identical to Pizza Time Theatre in all aspects except for animation, which would be provided by Creative Engineering.[12] ShowBiz Pizza Place opened its first location on March 3, 1980, in Kansas City, Missouri.[11]

Upon the opening of ShowBiz Pizza Place, Bushnell sued Brock and Topeka Inn Management over a breach of contract.[12] Brock immediately issued a counter-suit against Bushnell, citing misrepresentation.[12] The court case began in March 1980, eventually settling out of court with Showbiz agreeing to pay Pizza Time Theatre a portion of its profits over the following decade.[12] During this period, Topeka Inn Management changed its name to Brock Hotel Corporation and moved its headquarters to Irving, Texas.[12] Both restaurants experienced increased success as the video game industry became more robust.[12] To maintain competition, both franchises continually modified and diversified their animatronic shows.

Mergers and restructuring

In 1981, Pizza Time Theatre went public; they lost $15 million in 1983. By early 1984, Bushnell's debts were insurmountable, resulting in the filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Pizza Time Theatre Inc. on March 28, 1984.[11][18] Brock then bought the floundering company, finalizing the purchase in May 1985 and merging the two restaurant companies into ShowBiz Pizza Time Inc.[11][19]

After the merger, both restaurant chains continued operating under their respective titles, while major financial restructuring had begun.[11] During this period, Creative Engineering began to sever ties with ShowBiz Pizza Time (officially splitting in September 1990), resulting in the unification of the two brands. This is known as “Concept Unification”. By 1992, all restaurants assumed the name of Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza.[20][21] The name was then shortened to Chuck E. Cheese's by March 1994 after a redesigned concept.[11][22]

In 1998, ShowBiz Pizza Time renamed itself CEC Entertainment, Inc. to reflect the remaining chain brand.[23][11] CEC Entertainment has since acquired additional family restaurant properties, including 13 locations of the now-defunct Discovery Zone in 1999,[24] and all locations of Peter Piper Pizza in October 2014. Peter Piper Pizza still operates under that name.[25]

International expansion

Chuck E. Cheese's Boulevard Marina in Viña del Mar, Chile
Chuck E. Cheese's Mallplaza in Trujillo, Peru

In 1981, the restaurant franchise debuted in Australia under the name Charlie Cheese's Pizza Playhouse. The name change had to do with the common meaning of the word "chuck," which in Australia is a reference to the phrase "to throw up.". The first location, located in Surfer's Paradise, Queensland, relocated in 1982 to a location in Carina, Queensland. In January 2024, it was announced that Chuck E. Cheese would be making its return to Australia with a multi-unit franchise partnership with Royale Hospitality Group. [26] [27] Consecutively, Pizza Time Theatre, Inc. also opened at least one restaurant in Hong Kong and Singapore, which both closed shortly thereafter as a result of the initial company's 1984 bankruptcy.[26] Two locations in Puerto Rico franchised by Santa Rosa Enterprises would open in 1983: one in San Juan, Condado[28] in September of that year,[29] and one in the Santa Rosa Mall in Bayamón which would open in either November or December of that year.[30] Both stores would be short-lived and would approximately close by the end of 1985. Pizza Time Theatre also opened a location in Creteil, France in 1984 and planned to open a location in Ealing, England in the mid '80s, but the plan failed.[29]

In 1994, nine years after ShowBiz Pizza Time was formed, the first new international location would open in Santiago, Chile. More restaurants would open in the country, with 13 total stores as of 2023. In the late 90's, there was a plan to expand to Israel, 1998 saw the plan of expanding to Japan first opening in Tokyo. These never materialized. An expansion for the Philippines was planned, and the first location would have opened by 2000. However, these plans (like Pizza Time Theatre's plans for future expansion) never materialized. In the Middle East, locations would open in Saudi Arabia beginning in 2001, the United Arab Emirates in 2008, Jordan in 2019, Bahrain in 2021, and Qatar in 2022. Three new locations would open in Puerto Rico between 2003 and 2008. Another plan to open in the Glorietta mall complex of Makati City, Philippines, was greenlit in January 2013 but that also never happened.[31]

On March 6, 2012, the first Chuck E. Cheese in Mexico would officially open in Monterrey. "Ratón Chito," an unofficial character, previously represented Chuck E. in the country during the 1980's. This unique incarnation appeared throughout the ShowBiz (and later, Boomis) Pizza Fiesta chain of establishments, conceived as a result of closing Pizza Time Theatres in the United States. Assets from several store closures were shipped to the Mexican franchisees, with the intention of retrofitting the Pizza Time Players to better suit the country's market demographic.[32] Sally Industries of Jacksonville provided the controller equipment for these retrofits, as the animatronics arrived without their original control systems required for operation. The Ratón Chito aspect of ShowBiz Pizza Fiesta was later spun off into Boomis, separating itself from the rest of the company. These stores managed to successfully remain in operation until the 2000's, with one in Aguascalientes auctioning off equipment (including the retrofitted Chuck E. Cheese animatronics) as late as October 2018.[33]

In August 2022, it was announced that the first Chuck E. Cheese in Egypt would open in Sheik Zayed's Royal Mall, with the location opening in February 2024.[34][35]

In February 2023, a third Chuck E. Cheese location opened in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, after the Chaguanas location in 2014, and the San Fernando location in 2016, although the San Fernando location closed sometime in January 2023.[36]

At the time of the Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago opening, Chuck E. Cheese had planned additional international locations to open in Jamaica in late 2023, Guyana in 2024, and another in Jamaica by 2025, as well as a store in Romania, although it was unknown when that store would open.[36]

As of April 2024, Chuck E. Cheese operates nearly 600 corporate and franchised locations, as well as over 120 Peter Piper Pizza restaurants. They are located in 45 states domestically and in 17 foreign countries and territories around the world.[37]

Buyout and modern redesign

By 2012, CEC was struggling with decreasing revenue.[38] They ran a rebranding campaign, changing the rat mascot into a rock-star guitar-playing mouse.[39] In February 2014, Apollo Global Management acquired CEC Entertainment, Inc. for $54 per share, or about $950 million.[40][41] In October 2014, under Apollo Global Management, CEC Entertainment announced that they would purchase their Phoenix-based competitor, Peter Piper Pizza from ACON Investments.[42] In August 2017, the company began to pilot a new design concept at seven remodelled locations (three in Kansas City, three in San Antonio, one in Selma, Texas), branded as Chuck E. Cheese Pizzeria & Games. These locations feature more upscale decor with a "muted" interior color scheme, an open kitchen, the "Play Pass" card system to replace arcade tokens, and the animatronic stage show replaced by a dance floor area. These changes, along with expansions to food offerings, were intended to help the chain be more appealing to adults and encourage family dining as opposed to primarily hosting parties.[43][44]

In 2019, the corporation announced it would go public on the New York Stock Exchange through a shell company, Leo Holdings Corporation, of which Apollo will still own 51%.[45] Bloomberg also reported that after going public, Chuck E. Cheese would no longer have animatronic animals as part of the entertainment.[46] The proposed merger between CEC Entertainment and Leo Holdings Corporation was terminated on July 29, 2019.[47]

Financial trouble and second buyout

The COVID-19 pandemic has been financially damaging to the parent company, and with an estimated $1–2 billion in debt, the possibility exists of all CEC properties being forced to close if bankruptcy refinancing fails.[48] CEC Entertainment solicited $200 million in loans to finance a restructuring under bankruptcy protection.[49] They also filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas on June 25, 2020.[50] In December 2020, CEC Entertainment, the owners of Chuck E. Cheese and Peter Piper Pizza chains, emerged from its June bankruptcy under the ownership and selling of its lenders led by Monarch Alternative Capital.[51][52]

Entertainment

Video arcade

A 2001 Chuck E. Cheese token

Since the company's inception, one of the primary draws for the business has been its video arcade offering inside restaurants.[2][23] Within the arcade, customers can play coin-operated video games or redemption games, the latter of which involves games of skill that reward players in the form of tickets based on score. Tickets can be redeemed later for merchandise, such as candy and toys. In late 2020, paper tickets were retired and replaced with electronic tickets, which are stored on the Play Pass cards.[53][54]

The coin-op games originally accepted brass tokens issued by the company, stamped with various logos and branding that evolved over time. The company experimented with a card access method as a replacement for tokens in the late 2000s, which allowed customers to load credits onto a card that could then be swiped for access at arcade games and refilled later. It was tested under different names, including "Chuck E.'s Super Discount Card" and "Chuck E. Token Card.". In late 2016, a new card system known as "Chuck E.'s Play Pass" was introduced to replace tokens throughout the chain. [55][56][57]

Characters and animatronics

Chuck E. Cheese "Studio 'C' 2000" animatronic, 2017
Munch's Make Believe Band "1-Stage", 2010

Another primary draw for the centers since their beginning through the mid-2010s has been their animatronic shows.[58] There have historically been several different styles of animatronic shows in use within the company, details of which would vary depending on when the location opened, whether it was renovated, available room for animatronic stages, and other factors.[59] Over the years, these animatronics have often been supplemented by (and in recent years been completely replaced by) costumed characters.[60]

When the first location opened in 1977, the animatronic characters were featured as busts in framed portraits hanging on the walls of the main dining area. The original show featured Crusty the Cat (the first character to face retirement as he was soon replaced with Mr. Munch in 1978), Pasqually the singing chef, Jasper T. Jowls, the Warblettes, and the main focus of the show, Chuck E. Cheese.[61] By 1979, many restaurants had also added "cabaret" shows in separate rooms of each restaurant.[2] One of the early Cabaret characters was Dolli Dimples, a hippopotamus who played the piano and sang in the blues/jazz style of performer Pearl Bailey.[62][63] The in-house control system, which consisted of a 6502-based controller in a card cage with various driver boards, was called "Cyberamics".[64][65]

While Fechter separately produced the Rock-afire Explosion animatronics for ShowBiz Pizza through the early 1980s, Bushnell and Pizza Time Theatre continued work on characters for their portrait format and newer balcony performance stage shows under the umbrella of the Pizza Time Players.[66] Development on Cabaret concepts slowed greatly after Pizza Time Theatre Inc.'s bankruptcy in 1984 and its purchase by ShowBiz a year later. From 1985 to 1990, the merged company kept their brands (and their respective animatronics) mostly separate.[67]

Chuck E. Cheese’s 3-Stage, 1989 in Dallas, Texas.

After Fechter refused to sign over the rights to the Rock-a-Fire Explosion to Showbiz Pizza Time, Inc., "Concept Unification" was undertaken beginning in September 1990 and continuing through 1992 to eliminate Fechter's characters from ShowBiz locations.[68] The animatronics used for ShowBiz's Rock-a-Fire Explosion band were redressed as "Munch's Make Believe Band", with new costumes.[69] In the mid-1990s, the character Chuck E. Cheese began to see significant design changes. His vest (or suit) and derby hat were changed for a baseball cap, casual shirt, and optional sneakers in an attempt to appeal to a younger audience.[70]

In August 1996, a test stage at the Valley View Mall/Montfort Drive location in Dallas, Texas, was created—the first attempt at a single-character animatronic stage, The Awesome Adventure Machine. This animatronic show consisted of neon flashy lights and items around the show. This stage took over what is commonly referred to as a "3-Stage" (a animatronic show converted from a former Rock-A-Fire Explosion show from Showbiz Pizza Place). This animatronic show was never installed in any other location and was removed the following year and replaced by Studio 'C'.[71]

Beginning in December 1997 with the Brookfield, Wisconsin, and Dallas locations, a new animatronic show began being installed in new stores, referred to as "Studio 'C'", consisting of a single animated Chuck E. Cheese character created by Garner Holt alongside large television monitors, lighting effects, and interactive elements.[72]

In May 2024, the animatronic band known as Munch's Make Believe Band, a long-standing feature at Chuck E. Cheese locations, was reported to have been set to be phased out by the end of 2024, with all but two venues discontinuing their performances, one in Los Angeles and another in Nanuet, New York. Comprising characters like Chuck E. Cheese, Helen Henny, Mr. Munch, Jasper T. Jowls, and Pasqually, the band had entertained patrons for decades. The decision aligned with Chuck E. Cheese's strategic transformation towards modernization since 2020, including the introduction of digital entertainment features such as screens, digital dance floors, and trampoline gyms.[73] After a negative response from the public, the company decided to retain the band at those locations as well as at locations in Pineville, North Carolina; Hicksville, New York; and Springfield, Illinois.[74]

Characters

For stores still featuring animatronics, updated programs for the character have long been generally distributed on DVD between 2007 and 2022, but for Studio C SD (Studio C Alpha, Beta, and Cappa stages) locations, they continue to use 3 DVDs and a 3.5 inch floppy disk.[76]

In mid-2022, a new system for running the animatronic shows (3-Stage, Cyberamics, and all Studio C SD and HD shows) was introduced that would, instead of using physical media such as DVDs, function using the store's Wi-Fi connection. The implementation of said device caused a problem for the Studio C shows, as their previous show system(s) had special file formats for programming signals; therefore the switch to the new system would cause no animatronic movements to happen, except for a "Random Movements" program. The Munch's Make Believe Band stages (CEI and Cyberamic shows) were not affected by this change of systems.[77]

Elimination of animatronics

In July 2012, the long-standing rat mascot was rebranded, changing to a slimmer rock star mouse who plays electric guitar. Voice actor Duncan Brannan, who for 19 years had characterized Chuck E. Cheese as a wise-cracking rat from New Jersey, was replaced with Jaret Reddick, the frontman and guitarist for the pop punk band Bowling for Soup.[39][78]

By 2015, the "Chuck E. Live Stage," also known as "Stage V2" or commonly referred to as the "Dance Floor," which featured no animatronics at all, a modernized dance floor, and performances only with costumed characters, had been created. In 2017, the chain announced that animatronic shows would be removed entirely in favor of this design in seven pilot locations.[79] After the pilot locations showed promise, retirement of animatronics at Chuck E. Cheese locations accelerated and continued through 2019, by which time 80 of its stores were expected to be retrofitted to the new design.[80][81]

In 2017, it was announced that every location would be removing their animatronic show and would be replaced with other attractions such as dance floors and trampoline areas. However, in November 2023, the company announced one location in Northridge, Los Angeles as the first "legacy and new" store location that would keep their animatronic stage. Northridge has the 2-Stage Cyberamic show. The grand reopening was held on November 10.[82] They would go back on this stance in May 2024 with a New York Times article announcing the Nanuet, New York location as the second "legacy and new" store. Nanuet has a Studio 'C' Beta, 16M stage, and has not received the remodel yet.[83] It was subsequently announced on May 24 that three additional locations would be keeping their animatronic stages: Charlotte, North Carolina, which has a 3 stage, Springfield, Illinois, which has a CU 1 stage, and Hicksville, New York, which has a 1 stage.

Food

Pizza is the main focus of the restaurant portion of the business, but the menu features other items as well including cold-cut sandwiches, chicken wings, salad bar access, and desserts.[84] In addition, some Chuck E. Cheese locations offer alcoholic beverages.[85]

In March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant began selling pizza, wings, desserts and more through food delivery services under the ghost kitchen Pasqually's Pizza & Wings. The Pasqually name comes from Pasqually P. Pieplate, who is a member of Munch's Make Believe Band, the Chuck E Cheese animatronic band. While food sold under this brand comes from the same brick-and-mortar kitchens as Chuck E. Cheese, the company claims to use different ingredients and recipes that cater to a more mature audience. Practically all of the Chuck E. Cheese stores in the United States are selling and delivering food under this virtual brand.[1][86]

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