ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. (Johnsonverse)
ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. (commonly shortened to SPT) is an American restaurant and entertainment company. A subsidiary of Johnson Foods, the chain currently holds the Chuck E. Cheese's, ShowBiz Pizza Place, and Peter Piper Pizza chains, as well as the Looney Bird's express chain.
Founded in 1984 after the merger between Pizza Time Theatre, Inc. and ShowBiz Pizza Place, Inc. in the wake of declining sales caused by the video game crash of 1983, the combined company retained both ShowBiz Pizza Place and Chuck E. Cheese's for several years, before tensions between SPT and Creative Engineering caused the former brand to disappear entirely, with all of its locations becoming Chuck E. Cheese's locations. In 1998, the company was renamed CEC Entertainment, Inc., and in 2014, was acquired by Apollo Global Holdings, who acquired Peter Piper Pizza during that time. However, this ownership was short-lived, as three months later Johnson Industries announced a deal to acquire the company, which was closed on December 10, 2014.
On January 1, 2015 (or in some timezones, December 31, 2014), to coincide with the revival of ShowBiz Pizza Place, the company was officially rebranded back to ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc., and in August 2015, ShowBiz Pizza Place was revived, while the Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants were significantly overhauled.
Pizza Time Theatre, Inc. (1977-1984)
Chuck E. Cheese's, originally named Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre, was founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell's experience in the amusement park industry, as well as his fondness of The Walt Disney Company, was influential in the conceptualization of the Pizza Time Theatre concept. The first location opened in San Jose, California on May 17, 1977, and was labeled as the first family restaurant to integrate food, animatronic characters, and an arcade. In 1978, Bushnell purchased the Pizza Time Theatre concept from Atari's then-corporate parent, Warner Communications, after leaving the company.
As the restaurant became increasingly successful, he began to franchise, resulting in a co-development agreement between Bushnell and businessman Robert L. "Bob" Brock of Topeka Inn Management in 1979. At the time, Brock was the largest franchisee of Holiday Inn hotels. The agreement handed Brock exclusive franchising rights for opening Pizza Time Theatres in sixteen states across the southern and midwestern United States, while also forming a company subdivision, "Pizza Show Biz", to develop the Pizza Time Theatres.
In 1981, Pizza Time Theatre went public; however, the evolving video game industry resulted in significant losses for Pizza Time Theatre; losing $15 million in 1983, and by 1984, Bushnell's debts were insurmountable, resulting in the filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Pizza Time Theatre Inc. ShowBiz then bought the foundering company, recreating itself as ShowBiz Pizza Time Inc.
ShowBiz Pizza Place, Inc. (1979-1984)
In November 1979, Brock met Aaron Fechter of Creative Engineering Inc. Concerned that Fechter's animatronics would be too strong a competition for Bushnell's work, Brock requested that Bushnell release him from the co-development agreement, citing misrepresentation. In December 1979, Brock and Fechter formed "ShowBiz Pizza Place Inc", severing Brock's business relationship with Bushnell. ShowBiz Pizza Place was conceptually identical to Pizza Time Theatre in all aspects except for animatronics; which would be provided by Creative Engineering and were much more advanced than Pizza Time Theatre's half-bodied animatronics. ShowBiz Pizza Place opened its first location on March 3, 1980, at the Antioch Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
Upon the opening of ShowBiz Pizza Place, Bushnell sued Brock and Topeka Inn Management over breach of contract. Brock immediately issued a counter-suit against Bushnell, citing misrepresentation. The court case began in March 1980, eventually settling out of court; with ShowBiz agreeing to pay Pizza Time Theatre a portion of its profits over the following decade. During this period, Topeka Inn Management also changed its name to Brock Hotel Corporation and moved its headquarters to Irving, Texas. Both restaurants experienced increased success as the video game industry became more robust, and to maintain competition, both franchises continually modified and diversified their animatronic shows.
Merger and restructuring (1984-1998)
After the merger, both restaurants continued operating under the different titles, while major financial restructuring had begun, eventually becoming publicly traded in 1989, with sales increasing by 8.3%. During this period, Creative Engineering began to sever ties with ShowBiz Pizza Time (they officially left the company in September 1990) after Fechter refused to sign over rights to the Rock-afire Explosion animatronic band, eventually resulting in the unification of its mixed characters. By 1992, all restaurants assumed the name of Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza. The name was shortened to Chuck E. Cheese's in 1994 during a redesigning of the concept, along with a redesigned mascot, who was officially changed from a rat to a mouse and gave a "thumbs up" in the logo, in addition to a new, kid-friendly image. Phase I remodels began the following year, with new features to compete with its biggest competitor, Discovery Zone.
CEC Entertainment, Inc. (1998-2015)
In 1998, the company renamed itself CEC Entertainment, Inc. Part of this renaming was related to a move from the NASDAQ to the NYSE. Phase II remodels began that year, and a new stage named Studio C was introduced, featuring a single Chuck E. Cheese animatronic manufactured by Garner Holt Entertainment, while all other characters were only shown through monitors. In 1999, CEC Entertainment, Inc. bought out Discovery Zone's assets and properties after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Phase III remodels took place beginning in 2000, and franchised locations were aggressively purchased back by the company, meaning that all locations would be company-owned. Additionally, a new logo and color scheme were introduced in 2004, along with a Phase IV redesign.
Due to declining sales, the company introduced an update for Chuck E. Cheese's in 2012, with a newly-updated "rockstar" mascot, rendered in CGI. Duncan Brannan, the voice actor for Chuck E. since 1993, was replaced by Bowling for Soup frontman Jaret Reddick, much to major controversy. However, the updates weren't immediately popular with the general public, and sales failed to turn around, forcing the company to file a plain text annual report, something last done by the company during Pizza Time Theatre's bankruptcy in the early 1980s. In 2014, Apollo Global Management acquired CEC Entertainment, Inc. for approximately $950 million, making it a wholly-owned subsidiary. They also acquired the Peter Piper Pizza chain, merging both companies under the name Queso Holdings, Inc.
Johnson acquisition, revival of ShowBiz Pizza Place and rebranding (2015-present)
On November 14, 2014, Johnson Foods (which owned the competing Looney Bird's franchise) announced its acquisition of CEC Entertainment Inc. Initially, Apollo Global Management refused to sell, having recently acquired the company but after a massive letter-writing campaign by fans who had heard that Johnson's plans involved bringing back ShowBiz Pizza Place and The Rock-afire Explosion, relented, and sold CEC Entertainment for $3.2 billion.
The acquisition was completed on December 10, 2014, bringing 590 locations under Johnson control. Overnight, at many CEC locations, the animatronic shows went down for what was initially called "refurbishment". Speculation among online communities, especially at Retro Pizza Zone, pointed at Johnson beginning work to bring back the Rock-afire Explosion.
On December 28, 2014, Johnson announced that it would revive the ShowBiz Pizza Place name and bring back The Rock-afire Explosion. Later that day, Fechter announced that he and CEI would be involved in the project. The company announced its rebranding back to ShowBiz Pizza Time, Inc. on December 30, with a new logo, and on January 1, 2015 (or December 31, 2014 in some timezones), the rebranding took effect. Rock-afire Explosion fans Chris Thrash (who was also a former Creative Engineering programmer and owned a restaurant called ShowBiz Pizza Zone in Phenix City, Alabama between 2008 and 2010, which later became a Looney Bird's afterward) and Damon Breland (owner of Smitty's Super Service Station in Sandy Hook, Mississippi) were hired to lead the revival with Johnson CEO Tim Johnson.
53 Chuck E. Cheese's locations underwent a new process called "Concept Division", in which the Concept Unification process was undone. These included new paint and signage, as well as a redesigned interior. Other Chuck E. Cheese's locations began a remodeling process known as "Phase V", and a new animatronic show, Rockstar Stage, was introduced, featuring all of the Munch's Make-Believe Band characters depicted as new animatronics created by Garner-Holt in tandem with Walt Disney Imagineering and CEI. All surviving Cyberamic animatronics were merely retrofitted to resemble the modern designs. The first location of the resurrected ShowBiz Pizza Place opened on August 20, 2015 in San Jose, California at Tulley Road (which had been CEC's flagship location for years). All Looney Bird's locations were converted into ShowBiz Pizza Place locations, ending the brand.
Throughout 2016 and 2017, even more Chuck E. Cheese's locations were converted into ShowBiz Pizza Place locations, and some were opened at or near where former ShowBiz locations and other restaurants with Rock-afire Explosions had once stood. The stated goal was to have at least one of each brand in each major city to provide options. The Chuck E. Cheese's brand is focused on kids and families, while ShowBiz Pizza Place now focuses on teens and adults. The direction is also reflected in the latter chain's new slogan "Come for the Pizza, Stay for the Fun", while CEC retained "Where a Kid Can Be a Kid". The last Circles of Light location in Tacoma Park, Maryland was converted into a Rockstar Stage on June 16, 2019, and the last 3-Stage Chuck E. Cheese's (in Peoria, Illinois) finished its conversion back into a ShowBiz Pizza Place location on November 29 of that year. The last Studio C stage (a Studio C Beta in Serene, Louisiana) was removed on January 29, 2021 as part of the location's conversion into a ShowBiz Pizza Place and replaced with a 3-Stage Rock-afire Explosion show.