A Short History of Chuck E. Cheese

The following information has been put together from various sources. If you have anything to add, please send me a note. A good chunk of this information was found on the CEC links.

1972 - Nolan Bushnell founds Atari with about $500.

1977 - Seeing no other way to stay competitive in the growing games market, Bushnell sells Atari to Warner Communications for $28 million. At this point, the company is producing arcade and home video games. Bushnell opens First Chuck E. Cheese "Pizza Time Theatre" in San Jose, CA. The unique feature of this chain is the use of animatronic animals (robots). First CEC tokens issued.

1978 - Because of tension with Warner executives, Bushnell leaves Atari and signs a lucrative five-year agreement not to compete with the company he started. Bushnell purchases the Pizza Time Theatres franchise.

1979 - Bob Brock acquires franchise rights to develop Pizza Time Theatres in 14 states. Before exercising these rights, Brock meets Aaron Fechter, head of Creative Engineering, and decides to start a new restaurant chain with more sophisticated animatronic animals. (See note from Steve Brock).

1980 - Brock separates from Pizza Time Theatre and begins ShowBiz Pizza Place. First ShowBiz tokens made (probably "25c Play Value" designs). Lawsuit develops between the two concepts. Bushnell's Pizza Time Theatre becomes a major success as new arcade games boom and families with children are increasingly drawn to the robots and electronic games.

1981 - Both companies expand - often within sight of each other. US arcades reach their highest revenues - $5 billion. Americans spend more than 75,000 man-years playing video games.

1982 - Lawsuit settled in favor of Pizza Time Theatre, Brock is required to give a portion of ShowBiz profits to Pizza Time Theatre for the next ten years. The arcade business begins to fade (it continues to fade for the next 15 years.)

1983 - Expansion declines. As the video game industry collapses in the United States amidst a huge glut of similar looking and priced software, Nintendo releases the Family Computer (Famicom) in Japan in July. "Adult Mouse I" design replaces "old rat" on tokens. Final year of tokens which include the names of cities (Maplewood, MN). Nolan Bushnell begins to off-spin companies from the profits of Pizza Time Theatre, these spin off drain money from Pizza Time Theatre, leaving it unable to pay its bills. Bushnell leaves the company.

1983-84 - Chuck E Cheese "Super Token" issued in Portland, OR.

1984 - Pizza Time Theatre is forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and is bought by Bob Brock. Pizza Time Theatre and Showbiz merge as Showbiz Pizza Time Inc, although it continues to operate both ShowBiz and Chuck E. Cheese restaurants. The year becomes known as the "Great Crash" for the games business. Some predict that the video game "fad" has come to an end.

1985 - Dick Frank joins Showbiz Pizza Time as president. Focus is placed on food quality, execution, parent & children satisfaction, marketing and finances (back to basics). Unprofitable restaurants are closed. Major financial restructuring is undertaken with support of Hallwood Group.

1986 - Sales increase. Remodeling of all restaurants begins. Aggressive marketing begins. Financial restructuring is completed. ShowBiz balance sheet improves by nearly $90 million. Hoffman Mint start making CEC tokens.

1987 - Sales increase by 5%. Opens first new restaurant in 3 years. Terry Spaight joins company as Vice President and Director of Operations.

1988 - ShowBiz is spun-off from parent company (Brock Hotels?) and becomes publicly traded (NASDAQ:"SHBZ"). Sales increase 8.3% over 1988. More new restaurants are opened and plans are made to open 10-15 centers per year over the next 3-5 years.

1990 - 4.5 years of real sales growth. Joint Chuck E Cheese/Showbiz token issued. First year of new token design "Where a Kid Can be a Kid" ("Adult Mouse II").

1992 - To elimate the costs of maintaining two sets of characters/artwork/merchandising, ShowBiz locations are phased out in favor of Chuck E. Cheese. (ShowBiz charcters were licensed from Creative Engineering, while Chuck E Cheese characters were owned by ShowBiz Pizza Time.)

1994 - Last ShowBiz locations closed. Last year of ShowBiz token production?

1995 - Tokens are issued with "Juvenile Head" (AKA "Thumb Chuck") design. Hoffman Mint loses main CEC token contract, but continues to make tokens for franchises. Tokens with "Adult Mouse II" design continue to be issued. (Probable but unconfirmed: "Juvenile Head" designs are for company operated locations, "Adult Head" designs are for franchises.)

1996 - A number of simulation games begin to enjoy popularity in arcades, including skiing, snowboarding and jet ski games from Namco and Sega, as arcades face another period of unsurprising decline. Nolan Bushnell reemerges in the industry as the president of Aristo Games, a company that makes Internet stations for arcades and bars.

1997 - ShowBiz Pizza Time has been renovating locations and updating entertainment offerings to boost repeat business. Total sales of $350 million (up 19% from previous year). Headquarters in Irving, TX. Dick Frank is still CEO. There are 4 locations in Canada, 2 in Chile, and 1 in Guatamala.

1997 (winter) - Chuck E. Cheese is officially announced to be a mouse, and not a rat.

1998 (June) - ShowBiz Pizza Time changes name to CEC Entertainment (NYSE:"CEC").

1999 - CEC Entertainment is no longer franchising in the United States, and is gradually buying existing franchises. CEC Entertainment does have an interest in franchising in selected other countries. (Note: CEC seems to have had a policy of buying franchises since at least 1992, see table below.)

1999 (July) - Discovery Zone arcade files Chapter 11 and is purchased by CEC. CEC intends to convert ten of the locations to Chuck E. Cheese restaurants and sell the remaining land and property.

1999 (August) - CEC purchases three Circus Pizza locations in Minnesota, they will be converted to CEC restaurants.

2000 - Hoffman Mint is making ~100,000 "2000" dated CEC tokens per week (These are all the "Adult Mouse II" type for the independant franchises.) 2009 - AFter steadily reducing franchises, I have heard the CEC is now actively selling franchises again. Not sure if the franchises are still using a different variety of token or not.

# of CEC Arcades
at Year End
Franchise 5554637093106110113
Total ?325312314319332352323

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