One day when searching around google I came across a video about the Rock-afire Explosion from ShowBiz Pizza Place. I didn’t know much about the Rock-afire Explosion growing up, my parents would take me to Castle Park, Mark Twain’s Riverboat Playhouse, and my favorite, Pirates.
After watching the video I realized that the band seemed very familiar. They were a group of animatronic animals that played music.
Chuck E. Cheese History
The origins of this saga go back to Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. When selling off Atari to Warner Bros., Bushnell founded a new company in 1977, Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre in San Jose, CA. It was the first family restaurant of its kind. It merged food, arcade games, and animatronics for entertainment.
Over the next few years, Chuck E. Cheese would become very successful and Bushnell decided to franchise his idea.
In 1979, Bushnell reaches an agreement with Robert Brock (who at this point was a large franchisee of Holiday Inns) to open multiple locations across the Midwestern and Southern United States. That same year Brock meets Aaron Fechter of Creative Engineering, Inc.
Alright now back to the story.
Side note, Creative Engineering created the Whack-A-Mole game.
This is significant because Brock is so impressed with Creative Engineering’s animatronics that he asks Bushnell to release him from their agreement, which he does. By the end of 1979, Robert Brock opens a competing attraction named ShowBiz Pizza Place which he co-owns with Creative Engineering, Inc. Actually, Brock’s got an 80% stake in the company.
Showbiz Pizza Place Opens
The first ShowBiz Pizza Place location opened its doors on March 3, 1980, in Kansas City, MO. It was here that the Rock-afire Explosion band was introduced to the world.
This brings a lawsuit from Chuck E. Cheese’s company against ShowBiz Pizza in 1980 citing breach of contract. ShowBiz Place responds with a countersuit citing misrepresentation. Over the course of the next few years, both companies near each other. In 1981, Chuck E. Cheese’s parent company goes public.
The lawsuit is finally settled in 1982 with ShowBiz Pizza required to give a portion of their profits to Chuck E. Cheese’s (approximately 50 million over the following 10 years).
The next few years are extremely rough on the arcade business and Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre files for Bankruptcy.
ShowBiz Pizza Place & Chuck E. Cheese Merger
In a crazy turn of events, ShowBiz Pizza purchases Chuck E. Cheese, assumes its debt, and renames itself ShowBiz Pizza Time. Both restaurants continue to operate separately while there is a financial restructuring going on that eventually leads in 1988 to ShowBiz Pizza Time going public.
Just a couple of years later in 1990, Creative Engineering severs ties with ShowBiz Pizza Time. This is at roughly the same time when the company decides to unify its characters aka the “Concept Unification“.
To save on costs associated with having 2 different sets of characters and locations to market, all ShowBiz Pizzas become Chuck E. Cheese Pizza. Since all ShowBiz Pizza characters were licensed from Creative Engineering, and all Chuck E Cheese characters were owned by the new company, it’s not hard to figure out what happened here.
In 1997, the company confirmed that Chuck E. Cheese is a mouse and not a rat. Who knew? He stills looks a little rat-like to me.
Current Chuck E. Cheese Logo
Whatever happened to the Rock-afire Explosion?
They can still be found at some locations throughout the country, which I guess is how came across them. There are now over 600 Chuck E. Cheese locations.
Rock-afire Explosion Documentary
*Rock-afire Explosion header image courtesy of fanprograms