Chances are you went to one (or more like 100!) birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese as a kid. Many a childhood celebration was spent over cups of tokens and greasy pepperoni pizza in a giant arcade room. But not many fans of Chuck E. Cheese know the backstory of the iconic restaurant chain. Let's take a look back at the family-friendly favorite through the years.
1977: The Founder
Nolan Bushnell became successful in the '70s as the co-founder of the video game company Atari, which brought games like Pong to homes everywhere. In 1977, he began working on the idea of an animatronic family restaurant, which later turned into Chuck E. Cheese.
1977: Pizza Time Theater
Bushnell's dream became a reality when he opened Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theater. The first location opened in 1977 in San Jose, CA, and it was the first interactive entertainment restaurant for families.
1978: The Concept
Bushnell built the concept of his restaurant on the idea of a carnival. He wanted atmosphere that would allow families to gather, while introducing children to video games. He settled on the name Chuck E. Cheese for his mouse mascot, because it forced people to smile when they said it.
1978: The Characters Come To Life
One of the things that set Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theater apart was the animatronic animals. The founder was inspired by Disney when creating his characters. As the chain grew more successful and as the years passed, the novelty robots evolved and became more sophisticated. Here, Bushnell poses with one of the original characters of the show, The King.
1981: The Mouse Heads To Wall Street
The restaurant chain rapidly expanded in 1980 and by the following year, Bushnell pushed to file an IPO. Pizza Time Theater filed its initial public offering in 1981 to begin publicly trading on the stock market. The company issued 1.1 million shares at $15 a share at the time of the initial offering.
1984: Pizza Time Is Bought Out
By 1984, Pizza Time Theater's financial struggles became apparent and the company filed for bankruptcy. That same year, the company was bought by their rival company, ShowBiz Pizza.
1985: Bushnell Moves On
In 1984, Bushnell resigned as chairman and CEO of Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theater. By 1985, Bushnell had moved on to form several other companies, including a robot start-up called Androbot.
1985: A Very Famous Slogan
If you were a fan of Chuck E. Cheese, you probably remember the restaurant's famous slogan, "Where a kid can be a kid." The company started using that line in commercials and marketing campaigns in 1985 and used it on and off until 2017.
1986: Success With Video Games
Video games rose in popularity during the 1980s, becoming a $8 billion industry. Thanks to Pizza Time Theater's revolutionary concept, which combined a family restaurant with arcade games, the restaurant saw a comeback.
1992: A Name Change
In the 1990s, the company went through a major rebrand. In the end, they dropped Pizza Time Theater and decided to simply go by Chuck E. Cheese's.
1994: A Costume Change
During the '90s, Chuck E. Cheese went through a makeover as well. The brand's mascot ditched his bowler hat and vest, opting for a more casual T-shirt and baseball cap.
2012: Some New Friends
It wasn't just Chuck E. Cheese's wardrobe that was retooled, he made a host of new friends in 2012 as well. The guitar-playing mouse even started his own band, Munch's Make Believe Band, featuring his friends Helen Henny, Jasper T. Jowls, Mr. Munch, and Pasqually.
2014: Major Expansion
After some restructuring, the company expanded the Chuck E. Cheese franchise in 2014, resulting in over 500 locations within the United States, plus more abroad.
2019: The Great Pizza Slice Conspiracy
The brand was forced to deny claims that it recycles leftover pizza slices to sell to customers after YouTube star Shane Dawson made a documentary over the long-lived conspiracy theory.
2020: Threatening To Close
In June 2020, news broke that Chuck E. Cheese may be filing for bankruptcy and may remain permanently closed post-COVID-19 shutdown. The company was greatly affected by the pandemic closures, laying off 65 percent of its staff this year.
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