Looney Bird's (Johnsonverse)

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Looney Bird's logo.png
Type: Subsidiary
Industry: Restaurant
Key people: Tim Johnson (CEO)
Founder(s): Phil Stacker
Creative Engineering
Founded: July 26, 1990; 30 years ago
Defunct: August 18, 2015; 5 years ago (all locations converted)
Headquarters: Irving, Texas, U.S.
Areas served: United States
Mexico


Looney Bird's was an American chain of restaurants and family entertainment centers founded by then-Johnson Industries CEO Phil Stacker and Creative Engineering in July 1990. The brand emerged in the chaos that ensued between Creative Engineering CEO Aaron Fechter and ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. (owners of the Chuck E. Cheese's and ShowBiz Pizza Place franchises) when the latter tried to force Fechter to hand the rights to his animatronic band, The Rock-afire Explosion, for little-to-no monetary compensation.

Looney Bird's used the Rock-afire Explosion, as well as an updated version of the Rock-afire Explosion, named The New Rock-afire Explosion, which used more articulated animatronics dubbed "miijins". Once Johnson acquired ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. (which had been renamed to CEC Entertainment, Inc. in 1998) in December 2014, the company began rebranding all Looney Bird's locations to ShowBiz Pizza Place. The last location (in Jackson, Tennessee) was closed on August 18, 2015 and converted to a ShowBiz Pizza Place.

History

 
Logo from 1990 to 1996.

In the mid-1980s, tensions between Creative Engineering, Inc. and ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. began to rise as the latter company attempted to take control of the Rock-afire Explosion from CEI in an attempt to save money. In 1990, the two companies began to cut ties once the latter began a process known as "Concept Unification", which rebranded all ShowBiz Pizza locations to Chuck E. Cheese's by replacing the Rock-afire Explosion with a new band known as Munch's Make-Believe Band, which used the characters from the latter brand's previous animatronic band, the Pizza Time Players.

Noticing this, Johnson CEO Phil Stacker, in a bid to improve Johnson after a decline in the 1980s, discovered Fechter and contacted him about starting a new restaurant chain that would compete with ShowBiz. In July 1990, the first Looney Bird's location opened in Jacksonville, Florida. Eleven additional locations were opened in Florida and California, before Stacker and Fechter got into a royalties dispute, halting further expansion; new shows were halted as well, leaving the chain to mainly use old ShowBiz shows throughout much of 1991.

Once Stacker resigned from Johnson on October 22, 1991, his replacement, Sheldon Johnson, Jr., resolved those disputes. Between 1992 and 1996, 25 new locations opened in the United States and Mexico, some of which having been ShowBiz locations previously. In 1992, Fechter began working on an update on the Rock-afire Explosion, dubbed The New Rock-afire Explosion, which used more articulated animatronics dubbed "miijins". The new band was completed in 1994, and was installed in 20 locations. At Johnson's request, some changes were made such as having the characters play their respective instruments, as well as replacing the servos powering their eyes with pneumatics.

The chain expanded to the Middle East in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as Johnson acquired the ShowBiz Pizza Place locations in Lebanon, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates and rebranded them as Looney Bird's. A few more locations were opened throughout the 2000s and early 2010s. On December 28, 2014, Johnson closed its acquisition of CEC Entertainment, Inc., and throughout 2015, all 68 Looney Bird's locations were converted into ShowBiz Pizza Place locations. Fechter stated in a 2018 interview that, had the acquisition fallen through, Johnson had planned to expand the chain instead as a competitor to Chuck E. Cheese's, actively buying 3-Stage shows for conversion back into Rock-afire Explosion shows in new locations.

 
A New Rock-afire Explosion show at the Chicago, Illinois location on July 19, 2012.

Entertainment

The chain used similar entertainment to its predecessor. It used The Rock-afire Explosion, which was used in all ShowBiz Pizza Place locations between 1980 and 1992, and would play again since 2015, as well as a new version called The New Rock-afire Explosion.

See also