ShowBiz Pizza Place

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ShowBiz Pizza Place
Industry Restaurant
Fate Merged with Chuck E. Cheese's
Founded March 3, 1980; 37 years ago (1980-03-03)
Defunct 1992 (1992)
Headquarters Irving, Texas, U.S.
Products Pizza
Parent Chuck E. Cheese's

ShowBiz Pizza Place was a restaurant pizza chain and family entertainment center 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 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 by 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, headed 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 opened the first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre in San Jose, CA. The concept became an immediate success, and after leaving Atari in 1978, Bushnell purchased the Pizza Time restaurant forming a new company under the title Pizza Time Theatre Inc.[1]

As Bushnell heavily marketed the Pizza Time franchise hoping to expand into new markets, the concept began attracting high-profile clients such as Robert L. Brock, best known for his extensive portfolio of Holiday Inn hotels. In 1979, Brock signed a multimillion-dollar franchising agreement with the Pizza Time Theatre Inc., and expected to open as many as 280 Chuck E. Cheese's locations across 16 states in the United States. Shortly thereafter, Brock became concerned about protecting his investment, noticing companies such as Creative Engineering, Inc. (CEI) on the horizon designing more advanced animatronics. He grew concerned that future competitors would emerge with better technology. Bushnell previously reassured Brock at the signing of the franchising agreement that the company's technology would continue to evolve. However, prior to the grand opening of his first location, Brock decided he wanted to void the agreement with Pizza Time, and instead, form a partnership with CEI.[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 franchisers in the Holiday Inn hotel system. The Brock Hotel Corporation owned 80 percent of ShowBiz Pizza, while the other 20 percent was owned by CEI, the company responsible for the production of the chain's animatronics show, The Rock-afire Explosion.[2] The company moved its headquarters in 1982 to Irving, Texas.

Showbiz Pizza Time, Inc.[edit]

In 1984, Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and its assets were purchased by ShowBiz. As a result of the merger, the newly formed company was named ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. – a combination of the former names. However, both restaurants continued operating as separate entities.

Richard M. Frank joined the company as president in 1985. Based on customer research, Frank instituted a number of changes to appeal to younger children and parents. Specific measures included increased lighting, a redesigned food menu, table service, self-serve fountain drinks, a revamped ride selection, and distinct toddler areas. However, relations between ShowBiz and Creative Engineering began to deteriorate. Aaron Fechter, founder of CEI and creator of The Rock-afire Explosion, would later claim in 2008 that the fallout was due to a demand by Showbiz to own CEI's licensing and copyrights to the animatronics show. Fechter says he refused, since Showbiz didn't offer monetary compensation for the rights. Despite the refusal, CEI's creative control was jeopardized, as ShowBiz had the ability to program the characters and replicate their voices, allowing them to make changes to the skits. ShowBiz later returned the recording rights to Fetcher following CEI's Liberty Show production (in commemoration of the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary), but they did not return the programming rights.

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

In 1989, ShowBiz Pizza Time became a public company with its stock market launch. The following year, it severed all ties with Creative Engineering and began restructuring the restaurant chains under "concept unification".[2] The changes consisted of the removal of all ShowBiz animatronics from their restaurants and replacing them with Chuck E. Cheese characters. In addition, the ShowBiz locations were renamed Chuck E. Cheese's, marking an end to the ShowBiz Pizza brand. By 1992, the conversion was complete, and ShowBiz Pizza Time became known as CEC Entertainment, Inc., in 1998 moving its stock from NASDAQ to NYSE. In February 2014, the company was purchased by the Apollo Global Management for $1.3 billion.[3]

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. 
  3. ^ Apollo to Buy Out Chuck E. Cheese Parent; New York Times

External links[edit]