ShowBiz Pizza Place

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ShowBiz Pizza Place
Industry Restaurant
Fate Merged with Chuck E. Cheese's
Founded 1980
Defunct 1992
Headquarters Irving, Texas, United States
Products Pizza
Parent ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc.

ShowBiz Pizza Place was a restaurant pizza chain founded in 1980 by Robert L. Brock and Creative Engineering. The brand emerged following a separation between Brock and Pizza Time Theatre, owners of the Chuck E. Cheese's franchise. ShowBiz Pizza restaurants entertained guests through a large selection of arcade games, coin-operated rides, and animatronic stage shows as a way to provide a complete package of food and entertainment.

Both companies became competitors and found early success, partly due to the rise in popularity of arcade games during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The type of animatronics used in the ShowBiz pizza chain – which featured an overall-clad, hillbilly bear named Billy Bob – distinguished it from its rival which offered many of the same services. Following Pizza Time Theatre's bankruptcy filing in 1984, however, ShowBiz Pizza Place bought the struggling franchise and formed ShowBiz Pizza Time Inc., a combination of the former companies' names. All ShowBiz locations were eventually rebranded Chuck E. Cheese, which was completed in 1992.


A child speaking with Billy Bob at Showbiz Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, responsible for bringing the first widely-recognized video game Pong to the mainstream, heads a project in the mid 1970s for Atari to launch the first arcade-oriented, family restaurant featuring computer-controlled animatronics. At a time when arcades were popular in bowling alleys and bars, Bushnell sought to increase arcade exposure to a younger audience. In 1977, Atari opens the first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre in San Jose, CA. The concept becomes an immediate success, and after leaving Atari in 1978, Bushnell purchases the Pizza Time restaurant forming a new company under the title Pizza Time Theatre Inc.[1]

As Bushnell heavily markets the Pizza Time franchise hoping to expand into new markets, the concept begins attracting high-profile clients such as Robert L. Brock, best known for his extensive portfolio of Holiday Inn hotels. In 1979, Brock signs a multi-million dollar franchising agreement with the Pizza Time Theatre Inc. and expects to open as many as 280 Chuck E. Cheese's locations across 16 states in the United States. Shortly thereafter, Brock becomes concerned about protecting his investment, noticing companies such as Creative Engineering, Inc. on the horizon designing more advanced animatronics. He grew concerned that future competitors may emerge with better technology. Bushnell previously reassured Brock at the signing of the franchising agreement that the company's animation would continue to evolve. However, prior to the grand opening of his first location, Brock decides he wanted to void the agreement with Pizza Time and instead form a partnership with Creative Engineering.[1]

The first ShowBiz Pizza Place opened in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3, 1980. At the time, Brock was quite successful as one of the largest franchisors in the Holiday Inn hotel system. Eighty percent of ShowBiz Pizza was owned by Brock Hotel Corporation. The other 20 percent was owned by Creative Engineering, Inc. which was responsible for producing the animatronics show ShowBiz used: The Rock-afire Explosion.[2] In 1982, the company moved its headquarters to Irving, Texas. In 1984, ShowBiz Pizza purchased the assets of Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre, who declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They then proceeded to change the name of the company to ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. afterwards. However, both restaurants continued operating as separate entities.

In 1985, Richard M. Frank joins the company as president of SPT. Based on customer research, Frank instituted a number of changes to appeal to younger children and parents. Specific measures included increased lighting, expanded and improved food, table service, self-serve fountain drinks, increased rides, and distinct toddler areas. During 1986, profits show a significant increase and marketing becomes aggressive. Relations between Creative Engineering and Showbiz began to sour. In 2008, Aaron Fechter, the founder of Creative Engineering and creator of the Rock-afire Explosion, claimed that the fallout between his company and ShowBiz arose when Showbiz asked him to sign away the licensing and copyrights to the RAE. Fechter refused, on the grounds that Showbiz offered no monetary compensation for the rights. The creative control held by Fechter became stifled, as ShowBiz learned how to program the characters and decided to use voice impersonators to play the character voices. ShowBiz later gave Fechter back the recording rights after CEI produces their own version of the Liberty Show (which commemorated the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary), but refused to give him the programming rights.

A child on a ride at ShowBiz Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas

In 1989, ShowBiz Pizza Time became publicly traded, severed ties with Creative Engineering in 1990, and ultimately began restructuring the restaurants under "Concept Unification" that same year.[2] This effort consisted of renovating all ShowBiz animation into Chuck E. Cheese characters and renaming all stores to Chuck E. Cheese's. This would mark the end of the concept known as "ShowBiz Pizza". By 1992, all ShowBiz locations were under the title of Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza. Although the company is still in business, the current management of the "Chuck E. Cheese's" concept is a direct line from the "Showbiz Pizza Time, Inc." era, with little connection to the original "Pizza Time Theatre" ownership. In 1998, ShowBiz Pizza Time changed its name to CEC Entertainment, Inc. and moved its stock from NASDAQ to NYSE.

The majority of former Showbiz Pizza Place locations were converted into Chuck E. Cheese's. At the current time, there are around 83 converted "Rock-afire Explosion" shows still in use as "3-Stage" Chuck E. Cheese shows. Some stores were also closed at this time, while other former ShowBiz locations converted to independent concepts.[citation needed]

There are a few restaurants still using the Showbiz Pizza Place name and animation. All are located outside the United States, and have no connection to the original company. Known locations are in Lebanon, Dubai, and United Arab Emirates. One also operated in Salmiya, Kuwait, but was firebombed during the Gulf War and was never repaired and never reopened. There has been one return of the brand in the United States, where it was called Showbiz Pizza Zone. It is now closed, and the building is now home to RentSmart.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The History of Chuck E. Cheese's and ShowBiz Pizza". CEC Entertainment Inc. Retrieved January 15, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "ShowBiz Pizza – Chuck E Cheese Saga". Burger Beast. 2009-07-28. Retrieved 2012-08-16. 

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