Sunday, June 9, 2013

Brides of Chuck E. - Pizza Time Theatre's Forgotten Imitators

Today's post is mostly pictures.
Everyone has heard of Pizza Time Theatre and its mascot Chuck E. Cheese. Most people know that the chain spawned a number of imitators that combined food (often pizza), arcade games, and costumed or robotic characters. Some of the imitators, like Dave and Busters (thought they ommited the characters), everyone's heard of.  Today's post is about some you may not have heard of (and one that you have).

First off, here's an interesting photo from June, 1976.
Note that at this point, the idea was in its early stages (the first Pizza Time Theatre wouldn't open until 1977) and the character (and restaurant, I believe) was called "The Big Cheese" (it was also known as Rick Rat's Pizza at one point).

Here's the one you've all heard of.
Showbiz Pizza Palace (and its relation to and dealings with Pizza Time Theatre) merits a post of its own. For now, here are some of their characters.

The "big cheese" at Showbiz was Billy Bob Brockali (named for founder Robert Brock).

Here are some more Show Biz characters.
I believe the one in the upper left is Rolfe DeWolfe, who delivered stand-up comedy with a puppet named Earl Schmerle. The house band was the Rock Afire Explosion, featuring Fats (the King Kong of the piano), Duke Larue on drums, Beach Bear on guitar, mouse vocalist Mini Mozzarella and Looney Bird - a heckler that popped up out of a stump.

P.J. Pizzazz was Sega's answer to Pizza Time Theatre. The first location opened in West Covina, CA in June of 1980.

 P.J.'s mascot was a robot named P.J.

Bullwinkle Family Food 'N Fun opened its first location in Santa Clara in 1983. Characters included the various characters from the Jay Ward and Peter Piech cartoons (Bullwinkle, Rocky, Dudley Do Right, Tennessee Tuxedo, Underdog etc.). The idea for the chain came from Paul Frees (the voice of Boris Badenov). Bill Scott (the voice of Bullwinkle) and June Foray (the voice of Rocky) went back into the studio to record dialogue for the robotic characters.


John Phillip Tuba's was a Florida chain.

Sgt. Singer's Pizza Circus was founded by Craig Singer (president of the Nickels and Dimes arcade chain) in Pasadena, TX in 1984.
Characters included Dolly Porker, P.T. Barum (a bear), Sgt. Singer (a tiger), Pete and Repete (an elephant and a mouse), and Ponce de Lion.

I don't know about you, but this one is just plain creepy to me.
Sammy Sands was the mascot of a chain called Gadgets.

Tom Foolery was Bally's answer to Pizza Time Theatre but with a difference. This chain was aimed at adults with a full service restaurant and no characters. It started when Bally acquired a chain of restaurants called Barnaby's Family Inns in 1981.

Zapp's took the adult concept even further. A creation of Nolan Bushnell, Zapp's was a kind of combination singles bar and arcade. The first one opened in 1983 in Cupertino (in a converted Pizza Time Theatre). In addition to the food and games, Zapp's featured two dance floors, MTV, an "excuse booth", video tape monitors in the bathroom (Chippendales for the ladies, the choice of a topless bar or sexy aerobics for the gents), and the "tunnel of love" where singles coudl sit with member of the opposite sex while they got "zapped"

One of the more interesting sounding the The Magic Pizza, which opened in Manhattan Beach, CA on 1/29/84 (it may have been the only one). This one combined games, pizza, and magic. Attractions included Sorcerer's Screening Room (shows , movies and cartoons), Magical Sports Theatre (satellite sporting events), Merlin's Showcase Theatre (live magic shows), Wizard's Forest arcade, Merlinville USA for tots (including the House of Shadows  - where you could strike a pose and see your shadow frozen on wall  and Merlin's Magical Mansion - a miniature house full of dazzling special effects).  Other effects  included Merlin's Lightning Sphere, and a 200-year-old talking Hawaiian skull named Irving.

Merlin's Showcase Theatre from The Magic Pizza

Finally, a few more.


  1. There would be a nice documentary (though very fan-oriented) called "The Rock-Afire Explosion" based around the Showbiz Pizza Place establishment and characters and the people whose lives were touched by having been there.

    My town never had a Showbiz Pizza or a Chuck E. Cheese location until the mid 90's, before then, we had our share of the clones out there. Two I'm familiar with include Razz-Ma-Tazz. This place though only lasted a few short years in the mid 80's in my town, but I have a faint memory of it's balloon logo and how wide the gaming area was, almost like a rotunda.

    Another one that had the longest survival status of any clone out there was Major Magic's All Star Pizza Revue. Originally founded somewhere in the Detroit area, they had a location in Sylvania, OH (west of Toledo). that had been in business for over a quarter century until it closed it's doors back in 2010. Use to be a fun place to go to when I was a kid in the 80's being really the only clone in town for the most part before Chuck E. Cheese manage to come in (amazing those haven't died).

    We still have one of these places though that is a few doors down from the defunct Major Magic's (and I hope that'll continue for a while)...

    Too bad I didn't have a "Zapp's" to go to in town, though I would've been underage for it anyway!

    1. Thanks for the info.
      I found an article on another interesting restaurant called The Magic Pizza and added it to the end of the article.

      If you are even remotely interested in Pizza Time Theatre and Show Biz Pizza Place, be sure to checkout

      It's an outstanding website filled with articles on the history of the chains, including corporate documents, newsletters, and enough trivia to choke a herd of wildebeest.

      And here's a link to the documentary you mentioned

    2. "Thanks for the info.
      I found an article on another interesting restaurant called The Magic Pizza and added it to the end of the article."

      Thanks for that, just reminded myself of a mall in my town that once tried to have a themed area in the late 70's or whenever called "Old Towne" that can only find a few mentions of online.

      "If you are even remotely interested in Pizza Time Theatre and Show Biz Pizza Place, be sure to checkout"

      Been there, done that, I'm already past most of it by this point.

      "It's an outstanding website filled with articles on the history of the chains, including corporate documents, newsletters, and enough trivia to choke a herd of wildebeest."

      At least we have that.

      "And here's a link to the documentary you mentioned"

      Which I watched already.

  2. We had a Showbiz first and a Chuck E. Cheese later. Funny, I always thought Showbiz came first. Of course, at the time, I didn't know CEC had anything to do with Atari. I just wanted to play video games.

    What really irritated me is that I was just old enough (and tall enough) to not be able to go into the more fun areas of Showbiz or CEC like the Ball Pit. SOOO pissed.

  3. I don't usually associate straw hat pizza with Chuck E Cheese type joints. They had one in my home town growing up. Until around 1987 when it was bought out by Pizza Hut. (I looked and they still have straw hat pizza again in my hometown.). They just had your typical small room with 4 or 5 arcade games and no animatronics. Was good pizza though.

    1. I thought more of the Pizza Hut I use to go to that would have the single tabletop Pac-Man machine in them! Those were the days!

  4. Though I already talked about Razz-Ma-Tazz Pizza Palace before, here's a shot of one of it's locations in Milan, IL. My location probably looked similar to this.

    And here's a button featuring it's mascot figure (whatever he was or called, I thought he looked kinda like a fox but I guess he was more a cat).

  5. I found this blog when searching for information on Sgt. Singers in Houston (after someone on Reddit helped me remember the name). The company ran arcades called TILT all around Houston. I never knew they had anything to do with the pizza place, or were a local company. They are still in business, though their response to my email asking when Sgt. Singer operated just was "around 82-83". I was aware of Showbiz at that point, but had never seen one (and I don't think I'd even heard of a Chuck E Cheese yet).

    1. I never realized that Sgt Singers was a TX company. I used to go to the one in Decatur, GA in the early 80s when I was a kid. Definitely a lot of birthday parties there! Some time later, I remember a CEC opening it's door across and little down the street. Of course, the rest is history, but I always thought SS came first since it was what I knew.

    2. Wow you are one of the few people that actually remember chuck e cheese on memorial drive in Decatur, ga. I was only about 3 or 4 when it was open, but I never forgot that it was there

  6. Wow this was very informative. Thank you.

  7. Peter Piper Pizza started a few years before CEC.

  8. My first job was at Bullwinkles Family Food N Fun
    Attached to many locations was Family Fun Center
    Arcade batting cages miniature golf
    Go karts bumber boats
    Vista CA 1992 was when it opened and was sold to Boomers in 2000 or 2001
    I remember Straw Hat Pizza in the 70's
    Then we got a Show Biz pizza which later turned to a Chuck E Cheese