CEC Entertainment CEO David McKillips Unveils Plans to Remodel Chuck E. Cheese Locations Nationwide
Chuck E. Cheese’s 43-year-old animatronic musicians – Munch’s Make-Believe Band – were supposed to be on a farewell tour in all of the children’s pizzeria-game-party venues across the nation. But a reprieve of sorts was disclosed, as reported by The Washington Post. CEC Entertainment officials announced that the band will play on in a “permanent residency” in California.
The quick-service restaurant has had its fortunes rise and fall through the decades, but it was a strong performer in 2022, with $912 million in revenue, according to Zippia.com. In a bid to maintain the brand’s health, CEC Entertainment CEO David McKillips is overseeing a remodel of all of Chuck E. Cheese’s 472 U.S. (corporate and franchise) and 86 international (including Europe and the Middle East) stores, he told The Washington Post on Nov. 12. As a result, the Munch players’ real estate is giving way to other, trendier entertainment.
The Animatronic Band
At present, 60 to 70 of the chain’s locations still feature the band. But by the time people are singing Auld Lang Syne to welcome the year 2025, Munch’s Make-Believe Band will be appearing exclusively at the Chuck E. Cheese in Northridge, Calif.
The band is currently performing there and will continue to do so even as the Los Angeles-area pizzeria-party site adds the interactive dance floor, “immersive video hubs,” trampoline areas and toned-down color scheme that are coming to Chuck E. Cheese across the board. “You have the ability to see this timeless brand and the future of the brand all in one location,” McKillips told The Post.
By way of a refresher for those of us whose kids are millennials and early Gen Zers (and whose many, many trips to Chuck’s world have faded from memory), the company released a video “news conference” starring band members: Chuck E. fronts, Mr. Munch is on keyboard, Pasqually mans the drums, Helen Henny sings and Jasper T. Jowls strums guitar. In the video, Chuck E. (real name: Charles Entertainment Cheese) tells viewers how excited he and his bandmates are to be held over for live crowds. “We love performing so much. It’s practically hard-wired into us,” Cheese says in the video news conference. He’s always been a punny guy!
Catering to Today’s 5-Year-Olds and Their Parents
So why did CEC give Munch’s Make-Believe Band the boot? McKillips explained to The Post that the franchise now gears its entertainment toward “today’s 5-year-old,” conjuring a vision of screen- and tech-savvy kindergartners who aren’t exactly dazzled by animatronics. The brand’s leadership sees these changes to its entertainment offerings as crucial for the company to survive.
But McKillips knows that the parents of those 5-year-olds may well harbor a soft spot for Munch’s Make-Believe Band. “As an important part of the legacy of the brand, we know that the animatronic band holds a special place for many fans in their childhood memories,” he stated in a November news release. “We want our fans to know that the decision to keep the band here is meant as a gesture of love and gratitude as our legacy continues to evolve in new ways.”
Affection aside, I may burst a few balloons with this news: The gimmicky animatronic entertainers, who at first were called the Pizza Time Players, were created as a way to minimize payroll at Chuck E. Cheese locations. Over the long haul, they would be more economical than human performers.
Chuck E. Cheese Milestones
Winding down the band and changing restaurant layouts and recreational pursuits represent recent milestones for Chuck E. Cheese, which launched in 1977 in San Jose, Calif., as Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. So in a way, Munch’s Make-Believe Band is returning to its Golden State roots. (FYI, founder Nolan Bushnell, now 80 years old, also is known for establishing Atari Inc.)
Here are some other milestones for the brand:
- The Chuck E. Cheese mascot debuted live in stores in 1980.
- In 1986, the first non-U.S. Chuck E. Cheese opened in Guatemala City.
- Stores got a refresh in 1996.
- The last remaining ball pits were removed in 2011. (I did NOT know that! The ball pits were a particular favorite for my three daughters, although I’m aware that they were later found to be dangerous.)
- In 2016, Play Pass and Play Bands replaced the franchise’s tokens, which could be redeemed for – I’m gonna say it – cheesy prizes. The tap-to-play game card system ushered in an easier and more sanitary way to have fun.
- Chuck E. Cheese in 2018 premiered a timecard that allowed guests to play as many arcade games as they wanted within a given time frame.
- 2019 marked the beginning of the restaurants’ refresh as outlined above.
- The next year, early in the Covid era, the franchise replaced paper tickets with e-tickets.
- In 2021, Chuck E. Cheese introduced a mobile app that permits guests to plan their visits before they arrive and rewards them with loyalty perks.
Photo: CEC Entertainment
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