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Chuck E. Cheese Adds More Beer and Wine to Appeal to Millennials

Chuck E. Cheese Adds More Beer and Wine to Appeal to Millennials

Chuck E. Cheese is revamping its food and drink menu to win over a new generation of young parents looking for higher-quality options.

According to Bloomberg, the arcade-pizza restaurant has experienced a recent slump in sales and hopes to revive the franchise by appealing millennial moms.

"Her kids know it's a fun place to go, but millennial moms want to provide that great experience without sacrificing for themselves," Greg Casale, the head chef at CEC Entertainment, Chuck E. Cheese's parent company, told Bloomberg. "Before she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera and those concepts. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle."

Kids are still on board with menu mainstays like cheese pizza and chicken fingers, but in order to appeal to more health conscious consumers the chain has introduced a new thinner crust pizza with toppings like mushrooms, and an improved salad bar.

The chain is also expanding its list of beer, wine and coffee options to get parents to shell out more dough while their kids rack up game tickets. The company has yet to announce specific alcoholic beverage additions but the current options are pretty much limited to Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft, and either Blush or Chablis wine.

Chuck E. Cheese currently operated 588 locations, mostly in the U.S. and Canada. After being acquired by last year Apollo Global Management, Casale, who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York came onboard to shake things up.

For example, a slice of the new pizza developed by Casale, has 23 fewer calories than a traditional Chuck E. Cheese slice. Marketers across the board are still working out how to appeal to millennial parents, who are in their 20s and 30s, and poised to become the country’s most influential consumers.

Included the in the revamp, is an updated look for the restaurant chain’s namesake character. No, they won’t be hiring Pizza Rat any time soon, but Chuck E. Cheese now has a more computer-animated look, his backwards baseball cap is gone and the heftier mouse has been replaced with a slimmer, hipster physique.

Not all of the new changes are promoting healthier eating. The chain is also experimenting with limited-edition menu items to signal that the younger generation is still the focus. First up, a trendy mashup of two kid-friendly favorites: a macaroni and cheese topped cheese pizza.

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This article was originally published on October 5, 2015


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Death of the Pizza Party: The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese's

There’s no collection of words that strikesਊs much terror in the hearts of adults as, “We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s.” Kids know the birthday-friendly chainਊs a semi-lawlessਏun zone full of games, tokens, and all the soda their grubby little hands can steal. But for anyone over the age of 12, the pizza-and-arcade chain is a pit of neon desperation𠅊 soul-destroying scream factory where parents are more likely to get into a bare-knuckle brawl than enjoy a pleasant pie.

Chuck E. Cheese’s realizes this dilemma, and they know it’s killing them. After 30-plus years of advertising designed to whip kids into a frenzy, driving them to pester their parents into taking them out for pizza and Skee-Ball, the struggling company has decided to try something radical: sell parents on the idea first. The company’s internal research found that while kids ages 5-12 want to go to CEC 11 times a year, they only manage to convince their parents to take them an average of three times. Along with a makeover for Chuck himself in 2012, the company has rolled out more comfortable seating areas, free Wi-Fi, better beer and wine service, specialty coffee, and—this year𠅊n upgraded, adult-friendly menu in an effort to lure in more customers.

Parents, corporate believes,ਊre the key𠅎specially moms. �ore she was a mom, she was going to places like Panera. She wants something that fits into her millennial lifestyle,” said Greg Casale, the chain’s new executive chef and a CIA-trained Beard Award semifinalist from Arizona. A recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, tbh) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-and-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.

𠇊 recent TV spot depicts a group of cool moms (looking decidedly post-millennial, TBH) telling a friendly CEC rep what they want from the new-n-improved Chuck E. Cheese’s experience—pedicures! Rom-coms! Cabana boys! They’re so relatable.”

These wacky moms are the model customers the chain is hoping will undo its current reputation as the home of the most ratchet YouTube brawls this side of a Walmart Black Friday sale. By 2012, these bring-the-whole-family fights had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization. Not that the coverage𠅊nd increased security in some especially feisty stores, like one in Pennsylvania that had the cops show up 17 times in 18 months—has had much effect the most recent YouTube clip, featuring a woman who manages to keep her baby on her hip during the entire fight, was posted just a month ago.

I’m no mom, but my friend Lauren is, with a six-month-old who surely hasn’t yet reached the age of CEC consent but will get us in the door incognito. In the spirit of journalism, I drag them both to the nearest location in the Atlantic Terminal mall in Downtown Brooklyn.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was never part of my childhood, but Chuck himself sure as hell was. The commercials for his party house were inescapable if you watched Saturday morning cartoons, you knew the guy. Outfitted in the finest mid-�s safety gear, knee and elbow pads flying as he ollied across my screen, Chuck was one cool dude. And then there was the pizza! From its very origin, CEC understood there was no food kids wanted more than pizza𠅊ll kids, even the pickiest, weirdest ones. “Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s was a life event that cemented pizza as a party food for every kid growing up in the 80s and 90s,” says author and noted pizza scholar Scott Wiener.

Originallyꃊlled Pizza Time Theatre, the chain was started in 1977, a solid generation after the early �s wave of pizza commodification that brought Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s into homes across the country. By then, the pizza party was a staple of American childhood. Its only drawback: Even restaurants as casual as Little Caesar’s demanded a basic level of polite behavior from children. By taking that restriction away, building a venue where kids get up from the table, run, shriek, and throw balls as they pleased during dinner, CEC created an unbeatable force—where a kid could be a kid ®.

𠇋y 2012, sprawling, bring-the-whole-family fights breaking out at CEC during birthday parties had become so frequent that news outlets were reporting on them as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”

But by the 2000s, matted robotic dogs and chickens singing “Twist and Shout” while tantrums over the Whack-a-Mole machine loomed had lost its appeal—to both parents and kids. The� makeover was not the first time Chuck has been updated since his birth in 1977, the world’s most unlikely culinary mascot has been nipped and tucked regularly to make sure he appeals to kids. CEC founder Nolan Bushnell’s original, terrifyingly shaggy “Rick Rat” costume became a cigar-smoking, vest-wearing New Jersey comedian who gradually became more mouse than rat. His new persona has swapped extreme sports for rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a sweet electric guitar and new voice by Bowling for Soup singer Jaret Reddick. But nearly 20 years passed between that iteration I knew and this new one—long enough for Chuck to sink into irrelevance.

Couple that stagnation with the boom of home video games and the rise of casual dining restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory that appeal to food-savvy kids without tormenting their parents, and CEC has been in a death spiral. In 2014, CEC was purchased by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm that buys sinking companies and turns them around—or wrings a profit out of them before they go under. It’s Apollo that brought in Casale, the first named chef in the company’s history, and hired the ad agency that came up with the new mom campaign.

Is it enough? New features are still being rolled out across stores, but the Atlantic Terminal CEC still feels trapped in 1998. It turns out that alcohol service is at the discretion of each individual manager—while 70% of stores do serve beer and wine𠅊nd the Atlantic Terminal manager has revoked those privileges. Our cashier will only cryptically tell us, “We used to, but we can’t anymore because of the manager.”

From the menu of ostensibly grown-up options that include a chicken caesar wrap, parmesan breadsticks, and something called a Cali-Alfredo pizza, we choose a BBQ chicken CPK rip-off on a new thin crust that, we’re promised, proved better than Pizza Hut’s in a taste test. We take our order number, soda cups, and paper plates and settle into a booth whose molded plastic defies all of the principles of ergonomics.

The noise is horrific, a sensory overload that makes sense when you learn that CEC founder Bushnell was first a co-founder of Atari, whose machines made a fortune for bar and arcade owners by getting drunk adults and teens hooked on that high-score thrill. He wanted a piece of the action, and saw an opportunity to sell the same flashing-light buzz to kids. Pizza was easy to make and easy to love, and an animatronic cabaret act added another level of ADHD distraction to keep kids entertained.

After waiting 25 minutes for our pizza, even the six-month-old is ready to start a fight. We watch a birthday performance from Chuck, which consists mostly of pre-recorded spots shown on giant TV screens and the appearance of a guy in New Chuck costume who leads a brief dance routine, doles out a few hugs, and disappears through an unmarked door. An animatronic Old Chuck lurks in a corner, and costumed New Chuck is careful to never get too close, just in case the two of them appearing in the same photo will cause the universe to collapse, Langoliers style.

𠇌ool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright.”

When our pizza finally comes, it’s draped in a blanket of corn syrup-sweet Kraft-style BBQ sauce and showered with 𠇌rispy onions” that are almost definitely Funions, floury and bland. But I’m into it, and I realize that sharing this mediocre pie with my friend is fulfilling some deep-seated pizza party desire I thought I𠆝 lost decades ago, one that just isn’t fulfilled by the fussy Neapolitan joints and slices I get now.

Cool moms and cappuccinos aren’t the answer to a CEC comeback. Chuck E. Cheese’s already has everything it needs, it just has to remind America that pizza parties are our birthright, something woven into our DNA. Toys “R” Us understands this their new CEO, hired this year, came from an 11-year tour as head of Domino’s. It’s not unthinkable that he’ll bring in some pizza magic to boost the struggling toy store. CEC’s got that magic potential already. And hell, why not hug a giant rat while you’re at it?


Watch the video: Aventuras en Chuck E. Cheese. Piscina de Pelotas. Juegos Roblox Karim Juega (January 2022).