Chuck E. Cheese's is a chain of American family entertainment centers and restaurants. The chain is the primary brand of CEC Entertainment, Inc. and is headquartered in Irving, Texas. The establishment serves pizza and other menu items, complemented by arcade games, amusement rides, and animatronic displays as a focus of entertainment for the entire family. The brand derives its name from its main animatronic character Chuck E. Cheese, a comedic mouse who sings and interacts with guests.
Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre in San Jose, California, was the first location to open on May 17, 1977. The concept was authored by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, credited with bringing video games such as Pong to the mainstream. The Pizza Time Theatre was the first family restaurant to integrate food, animated entertainment, and an indoor arcade. Following a filing for bankruptcy, the chain was acquired by competitor Showbiz Pizza Place in 1984, forming Showbiz Pizza Time, Inc. In 1990, the company began unifying the two brands with the goal of renaming every location to Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza. They redesigned the logo in 1994, dropping Pizza from each store's name. In 1998, Showbiz Pizza Time, Inc. became CEC Entertainment, Inc. As of 2017, 523 Chuck E. Cheese stores are open.
Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre was founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who was seeking to expand the purview of video game arcades beyond more adult locations like pool halls to a kid and family friendly venue. Bushnell’s experience in the amusement park industry, as well as his fondness of The Walt Disney Company, was influential in the conceptualization of the Pizza Time Theatre concept. The first location opened in San Jose, California in 1977, and was labeled as the first family restaurant to integrate food, cheap animated entertainment, and an indoor arcade. In 1978, Bushnell purchased the Pizza Time Theatre concept from Atari's then-corporate parent, Warner Communications. Gene Landrum then resigned from Atari and was made President and Chief Operating Officer of Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre.
Bushnell has said of his decision to open a pizza restaurant, "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." After finding out from employees working on the animatronics that the costume he bought was a rodent rather than the coyote he thought he was buying, Bushnell says he suggested changing the name of the establishment from the planned "Coyote Pizza" to "Rick Rat's Pizza". Marketing people disliked that and proposed "Chuck E. Cheese" instead, which is what was used.
To expand beyond California and the west coast, Nolan began to franchise, resulting in a co-development agreement between himself and Robert Brock of Topeka Inn Management in 1979. The agreement handed Brock exclusive franchising rights for opening Pizza Time Theatres in sixteen states across the Southern and Midwestern United States, while also forming a company subdivision, "Pizza Show Biz", to develop the Pizza Time Theatres.
In November 1979, Brock met Aaron Fechter of Creative Engineering, Inc. Concerned that Fechter's animatronics would be too strong a competition for Bushnell’s work, Brock requested that Bushnell release him from the co-development agreement, citing misrepresentation. In December 1979, Brock and Fechter formed “Showbiz Pizza Place Inc”, severing Brock's business relationship with Bushnell. ShowBiz Pizza Place was conceptually identical to Pizza Time Theatre in all aspects except for animation, which would be provided by Creative Engineering. Showbiz Pizza Place opened its first location on March 3, 1980, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Upon the opening of ShowBiz Pizza Place, Bushnell sued Brock and Topeka Inn Management over breach of contract. Brock immediately issued a counter-suit against Bushnell, citing misrepresentation. 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. During this period, Topeka Inn Management also changed its name to Brock Hotel Corporation and moved its headquarters to Irving, Texas. Both restaurants experienced increased success as the video game industry became more robust, and, to maintain competition, both franchises continually modified and diversified their animatronic shows.
In 1981, Pizza Time Theatre went public; however, the evolving video game industry and the video game crash of 1983 resulted in significant losses for Pizza Time Theatre, which lost $15 million in 1983, and by 1984, Bushnell’s debts were insurmountable, resulting in the filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Pizza Time Theatre Inc. Showbiz then bought the foundering company, recreating itself as Showbiz Pizza Time Inc.
After the merger, both restaurant chains continued operating under their respective titles, while major financial restructuring had begun. 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. By 1992, all restaurants assumed the name of Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza. The name was then shortened to Chuck E. Cheese's by March of 1995 after a redesigned concept. In 1998, Showbiz Pizza Time renamed itself CEC Entertainment, Inc. to reflect the remaining chain brand.
In the early 1980s, 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". Pizza Time Theater also opened at least one restaurant in Hong Kong, which closed shortly thereafter as a result of the initial company's 1984 bankruptcy.
Further locations were opened under the unified Chuck E. Cheese's brand in Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad and Tobago, and United Arab Emirates.
The company was supposed to open a branch in the Philippines at Glorietta but it was scrapped due to the discrepancies in the mall's design which standards of CEC locations must be followed. The location of the first branch is still being proposed.
In February 2014, Apollo Global Management acquired CEC Entertainment, Inc. for $54 per share, or about $950 million.
In August 2017, the company began to pilot a new design concept at seven remodeled locations (three in Kansas City, three in San Antonio, one in Selma, TX), 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, are intended to help the chain provide an experience that can appeal better to adult visitors, and encourage family dining as opposed to primarily parties.
While its primary focus is pizza, Chuck E. Cheese's also offers cold-cut sandwiches, chicken wings, salad bars and desserts. Some stores are also used as "test" locations which feature new Chuck E. Cheese foods. Certain Chuck E. Cheese locations also offer beer and wine.
Starting on November 13, 2012, new gluten-free menu items are available at more than 500 locations in the U.S. and Canada. This currently includes a choice of a personal-size cheese pizza and new items such as chocolate or vanilla sheet cakes and cotton candy.
From the time of the company's inception to today, one of the main draws for the stores has been the arcade. The arcade games primarily consist of either redemption games or video arcade games.
The brass tokens issued by the company for use in their arcades exist in numerous varieties, and are collected by exonumia enthusiasts. The company once tested a card access method for use with their arcade and skill games in one location. The test location would no longer use tokens, and instead use a refillable card to access credits, which replace tokens, and points, which replace tickets. However, this was later scrapped. It was tested under different names, including "Chuck E.'s Super Discount Card" and "Chuck E. Token Card". This method is currently being tested in some markets again. Instead of electronic tickets like the former cards, Patrons still carry paper tickets and the card just take the place of the metal tokens. CECE, or CEC Entertainment, has called the new system "Play Pass".
Along with the arcade, the other main draw for the centers since the beginning was its animatronic show, until the mid-1990s. More recently, less attention has been placed on animatronics. However, there are now several different styles of animatronic shows in use within the company, depending on when the location opened, whether it was renovated, and other factors.
When the first location opened in 1977, the animatronic characters were featured in framed portraits hanging on the walls of the main dining area, but they are no longer in use today. The 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. Later, restaurants also added "Cabaret" shows in separate rooms of each restaurant. They also frequently changed out the sole female character, currently named Helen Henny, in the main show. They achieved this by applying a cosmetic change to the existing robot, as well as a change of stage backdrop, to match the performer. The in-house control system which consisted of a 6502-based controller in a card cage with various driver boards was called "Cyberamics".
Beginning in 1998, the company's show installed into new stores, referred to as "Studio C", consists of a single animated Chuck E. Cheese character created by Garner Holt alongside large television monitors, lighting effects, and interactive elements. The other characters appear as puppets on the TV screens. The control system dubbed "Cyberstar" was re-designed from the ground up and produced by Dave Philipsen. In some markets, the company has also tried a new store concept that omits the animated show entirely. This is the Circle of Lights stage which either consists of a live Chuck E. Cheese costume character or an animatronic in a futuristic light stage with large television monitors. In 2017, the Chuck E. Cheese announced that animatronic shows would be removed in favor of a modernized dance floor. The move is being piloted in a handful of locations prior to being implemented company-wide.
The members that performed in the animatronic shows were:
There are two types of costumed shows used by Chuck E. Cheese's: the LIVE! show and the Road show. The LIVE! show is performed at the front of the stage in the showroom, whenever a child is celebrating a birthday. The live show is a way of pumping up the crowd before a customized rendition of "Happy Birthday" is sung to the child that is celebrating the birthday ("I say Happy, you say Birthday..."). A costumed Chuck E. Cheese dances with the guests and sings, while being accompanied by the cast members. The Road show is a performance by a costumed Chuck E. Cheese character, and is performed outside the normal showroom. Children are gathered via the public announcement system or by Chuck E. Cheese himself. Chuck E. Cheese wants the kids to dance in order to win free tickets. The free tickets are thrown at the end of the performance for all the kids that participated. Chuck E. comes out every hour on the half hour (12:30, 1:30, etc.). The songs Chuck E. and the kids dance to are usually well-known classic songs such as "If You're Happy and You Know It" and "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes".