Life | Food and Snacks

The Dramatic Saga Of Chuck E. Cheese And ShowBiz Pizza's Battle Of The Robot Bands

Remember the excitement you would feel when you knew you were going to go to ShowBiz Pizza Place? Try and remember that level of happiness that you would experience. It was almost too much, right?

We would all go, hang out with Billy Bob the bear, and eat our delicious pizza before playing a bunch of arcade games and running around like a tiny little tornado.

It was an absolute haven for kids, because it was the one restaurant that they could be loud and have fun at without their parents yelling at them to keep it down.

You could go watch the giant animatronic band perform their songs for you, you'd eat too much pizza, and you'd laugh the night away, but you probably never realized that there was some pretty big competition.

Chuck E. Cheese and ShowBiz Pizza were both popular restaurants that all frequented as kids, but did you realize there was a secret betrayal behind the scenes?

Chuck E. Cheese VS. ShowBiz Pizza

Chuck E. Cheese was actually around first, with the first location opening in 1977, but it was only three years later that ShowBiz Pizza opened up.

However, the process of opening it ended up creating a bit of a problem.

Nolan Bushnell opened Chuck E. Cheese with his iconic robotic rat. Bushnell was actually the founder of Atari and inventor of Pong, so he was looking for a way to expand his arcade empire.

He decided that to convince parents to bring their kids to the restaurant, they would need to have some kind of free entertainment. You couldn't get people to go pay for games if that was the only thing offered (or at least that's what they thought at the time) so the animatronic band was developed.

Chuck E. Cheese, Jasper T. Jowls, Crusty, the Warblettes, and Pasqually were known as the Pizza Time Players, and they all hung out and joked between songs on stage, in an attempt to entertain both the kids and parents.

Then came the drama

A potential investor named Bob Brock promised to support Bushnell's innovations. Bushnell tried to assure him that his animatronics were the best available, but when Brock met an inventor named Aaron Fechter in 1979, he realized there were better options.

Instead of investing in Bushnell, Brock started his own restaurant called ShowBiz Pizza with his own animatronic band called Rock-afire Explosion.

The band had seven main members, but there were also some background characters as well. Billy Bob Brockali the bear, Looney Bird, Dook LaRue, Fatz Geronimo, Beach Bear, Mitzi Mozzarella, and Rolfe DeWolfe (and his ventriloquist dummy Earl Schmerle) made up the Rock-afire Explosion.

Each restaurant had their fans

Apparently the jokes that the Rock-afire Explosion made were a little bit less kid-friendly than the Pizza Time Players, but some people thought that Chuck E. Cheese had better pizza.

The problem was, even though kids loved it, they weren't the ones with the money. Chuck E. Cheese may have had the better pizza, but they were struggling.

In 1980, Bushnell started to have financial problems. He had sold his rights to his Atari system to Warner Communications, along with Chuck E. Cheese, but they weren't interested in franchising it. Eventually he managed to buy back the rights, and found his own franchisees, but things would eventually take a turn.

Legal Battle

By 1982, Bushnell had filed a lawsuit against Brock's ShowBiz Pizza. The process took a while, but a settlement was reached with ShowBiz Pizza paying a percentage of their profits to Chuck E. Cheese for fourteen years.

The Fall Of Chuck E. Cheese

But unfortunately for Bushnell, his victory didn't really last all that long. When the video game market started to stutter in the 80s, he was hit hard. He had invested so much of the Chuck E. Cheese money into other ventures that they couldn't survive.

Bushnell filed for bankruptcy in 1984, after falling into $22 million in debt. When he declared bankruptcy, the Chuck E. Cheese franchise forced him out, and guess who was there to pick it all back up?

Yep, that's right, ShowBiz Pizza jumped on that faster than you could have ever imagined, but instead of rebranding all of the Chuck E. Cheese locations into ShowBiz Pizzas, they let them keep their name.

Rock-afire Explosion failure

Even though they outlasted their competition, ShowBiz Pizza was struggling, and they believed it was because of the complex animatronics.

The animatronic's inventor, Fechter, was too expensive and too involved, so they started to phase him out. By 1990, they decided to get rid of him completely, but when they did, he took the Rock-afire Explosion with him.

They were his creation, and even though they found success because of their connection to the restaurant he believed they could be so much more.

ShowBiz Pizza had to alter all their remaining robots so they wouldn't look like Fechter's inventions, so they were combined with Chuck E. Cheese robots.

But now Rock-afire Explosion is back!

Rock-afire Explosion
Shane Keyser

It's been almost 30 years since we got to see the Rock-afire Explosion, but now one bar has teamed up with Aaron Fechter to bring it back.

The Rock-afire bar in Kansas City is where Fechter installed his refurbished creations. They all got new masks, new costumes, and new bodies, and they are even trying to get a new set list ready.

Rock-afire Explosion
Shane Keyser

Apparently they sing Michael Jackson songs, Madonna songs, Katy Perry songs, and even Biggie Smalls.

Bar owner James Bond says that it "is something you're not gonna [sic] find anywhere else. It's about experiencing being a child again, but in an adult setting."

Rock-afire Explosion
Shane Keyser

The bar also has a full arcade, including classics like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Mortal Combat.

The drinks have a bunch of retro-inspired names like the Princess Peach Sangria and the Ms. Pac-Man Shot, but honestly I think the most exciting thing has to be the band right?

Who else wants going to go visit Kansas City?

Defunct restaurants seem to always have a way of coming back to us, so maybe all of our favorite discontinued foods could too?

Source - Mental Floss / Kansas City

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