Chuck E. Cheese
Chuck E. Cheese is an American family entertainment center and restaurant pizza chain founded in 1977 by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell. Headquartered in Irving, Texas, each location features arcade games, amusement rides, and character stage 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. After filing for bankruptcy in 1984, the chain was acquired in 1985 by Brock Hotel Corporation, 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. Parent company ShowBiz Pizza Time also became CEC Entertainment in 1998. As of June 2020, CEC Entertainment owned 611 Chuck E. Cheese venues in 47 U.S. states, four Canadian provinces, and Puerto Rico. The COVID-19 pandemic put significant financial strain on the company, and CEC Entertainment filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition under Chapter 11 in the Southern District of Texas on June 25, 2020. The announcement was coordinated with 47 states and 16 countries including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and India.
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. His experience in the amusement park industry, and his fondness for Disneyland’s Country Bear Jamboree, influenced his concept for Pizza Time Theatre. 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.” 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. The first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater opened in San Jose, California, in 1977. 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. Gene Landrum then resigned from Atari and was made the restaurants’ president and chief operating officer. By late 1979, there were seven PTT locations, all in California. Its animatronics were produced fully in-house by PTT employees.