The Artisanal Pizza You Ordered Might Secretly Be Chuck E. Cheese
May 22, 2020 8:02 AM   Subscribe

 
So here's the thing, in the late 90s, the Chuck E Cheese in Irving, TX was the best place to get a pizza. No, seriously. It made no sense, I mean, it's a children's casino where everything is factory produced. Pretty sure the only people who worked at this location were teenagers who had been fired from other fast food restaurants. But whoever the cook was, there was something magical about that person and their pizza making skills.

Something about the pizza at this location was amazing. Me and my friends would go there to just purchase a pizza. I'm not sure how we managed to convince this branch to provide pizza to go for us, but we did and it was a regular occurrence. We didn't really question why their pizza was amazing, we just walked in, paid and got out so as to not look suspicious or creepy around the children and their families.
posted by Fizz at 8:06 AM on May 22 [20 favorites]


Back when the craft beer movement really started taking off and noticeably eating into Big Beer's market share, Molson pulled this same trick. They put out their own 'craft beer' with a very local pretend brand, which was in turn produced by some other brewery you'd never heard of. The name 'Molson' appeared nowhere on the case. The producing brewery turned out to be just a name as well, some extinct small label Molson had swallowed up decades before.

But -- Molson got its product on the craft beer shelves, where suckers like me could be duped into buying it.

Buying it exactly *once*, though. The beer was absolute garbage. Presumably a craft beer enthusiast wouldn't notice that it tasted like fetid swamp water? What was Molson's strategy to have the disguise work more than once?

Good lord, that was awful. And my rage at being duped was red-hot.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:18 AM on May 22 [9 favorites]


Yet another reason to avoid online ordering platforms if you can. Don't trust those phone numbers, either.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 8:19 AM on May 22 [9 favorites]


There's a Pasqually's near me, apparently, that Grubhub users have rated as well as most other random pizza places nearby, but I think that says as much about the quality of non-fancy pizza in the DC metro area as anything.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:28 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]




But whoever the cook was, there was something magical about that person and their pizza making skills.

A very kind friend gave me a useful metric for self-assessing wow moments like this: ask yourself “How high was I at the time?”. This has stood me in good stead for many years and prevented much embarrassment.
posted by scruss at 8:38 AM on May 22 [31 favorites]


For like 25 years AB has tried to get some of Shiner Bock’s market in Texas (and then elsewhere) with a sound-alike called ZiegenBock. It’s super gross, like all things big beer does.

Just buy local if you can. In Houston, there’s very little reason to ever eat anything from a corporate chain.
posted by uberchet at 8:54 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


On the one hand, it's more or less the same tools used to make good food or bad. You can make the best pizza in the world in a Chuck E Cheese kitchen, as long as you have the right recipe, cook, and ingredients.

On the other hand, it's all down to branding, isn't it? Pre-pandemic we were witnessing the continual appearance and disappearance of wood-fired pizza shops that were obviously ginned up in corporate boardrooms; the names and logos were too obviously the product of marketing group, the pre-distressed fixtures are pretty hokey when their stripmall facility is only a few months old. I haven't tried any of them yet, because we already have a surfeit of actual local pizza shops that are genuinely good and generally cheaper their chain-store counterparts.
posted by ardgedee at 9:11 AM on May 22


“This new brand is the latest example of CEC Entertainment creatively adjusting to meet the needs of consumers in a unique way, allowing for more variety and convenient options available for delivery,” a spokesperson for CEC Entertainment told Today Food this week.

Un-spun: "This new brand is an effort to market our food instead of games, because we need to sell something, or we're out of business. And we realize no one comes to Chuck E. Cheeze for the food."
posted by filthy light thief at 9:24 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Guinness have a raft of more-craftier-than-thou beer labels also. Most of it is actually OK and at least they are upfront about it being from Guinness. It's not as if actual Guinness has anything wrong with it. Not in Ireland and Africa, anyway.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:29 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


Yeah, even with the spin, that’s a surprisingly self-aware statement that I’m genuinely surprised to see from a big business. I’m honestly not even mad at them. As far as survival tactics go, this one is surprisingly not gross (except for the pizza, that is)
posted by schmod at 9:37 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


On the one hand, it's more or less the same tools used to make good food or bad.

Not usually. Chains use pre manufactured parts and merely assemble and cook them on site. I doubt that you could make anything decent from scratch in most chain kitchens. Even when there are raw ingredients they're garbage quality.
posted by klanawa at 9:46 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Buca di Beppo runs a virtual restaurant chain called P.Za Kitchen out of their stores.
posted by mikelieman at 10:11 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


A Facebook friend was taken aback when she ordered online from a burger place she hadn’t heard of yet, Hooties Burger Bar, and the driver showed up with a bag of food from Hooters.
posted by TedW at 10:47 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


This is the part I've been in awe of for days:
"CEC Entertainment, Inc. recently launched Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings nationwide. The inspiration was rooted in the desire to create a premium pizza while staying true to the CEC brand," a Chuck E. Cheese spokesperson told Food & Wine via email. "Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings, named after another favorite member of Munch's Make Believe Band, shares kitchen space with the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, ensuring high-quality, fresh ingredients. Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings’ recipes use fresh, homemade pizza dough, just like Chuck E. Cheese, but it is a different pizza that features a thicker crust and extra sauce, giving consumers a more flavorful, more premium pizza experience. While Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings recipes are currently only available for delivery, select items might be added to the Chuck E. Cheese menu in the future."
To rephrase, "we knew our pizza was too crap for anyone to order it for delivery, so we decided to try to maybe make some pizza with a minimum quantity of flavor, but we're still thinking of serving the same old flavorless pizza to the suckers that actually come to our business."
posted by zachlipton at 10:48 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Presumably a craft beer enthusiast wouldn't notice that it tasted like fetid swamp water?

The abundance of crappy microbreweries in my city strongly implies that they would not.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:49 AM on May 22 [8 favorites]


Not usually. Chains use pre manufactured parts and merely assemble and cook them on site. I doubt that you could make anything decent from scratch in most chain kitchens. Even when there are raw ingredients they're garbage quality.

The counter point is a lot of small, one off restaurants really aren’t that good. Having everything pre-made, uniform, and ready to go cook can often be better that a lot of other options, especially since a lot of artisanal stuff is crap, all natural yes, but crap.
posted by jmauro at 11:02 AM on May 22 [7 favorites]


Yeah, pizza is one food that we’ve figured out how to make delicious in a variety of contexts. A cook that cares to make a tasty pizza in a CEC kitchen with Sysco ingredients will have no issue doing so.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:06 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


The abundance of crappy microbreweries in my city strongly implies that they would not.

Also, the fact that the original commented led with how the beer was made by Molson and how it was some kind of trick rather than the taste makes it abundantly clear that for many beer dudes the taste doesn't matter anyway, and that Molson had the right idea.
posted by sideshow at 11:07 AM on May 22


Even Frito-Lay has done this kind of thing to fight home-grown competition, though I think this particular case is at least somewhat to keep the business afloat. I've driven by our local CEC and there are tons of signs out advertising their pizza and wings, and they really look like they're desperately trying to avoid shutting down and putting more people out of a job. I am not going to order any, though.
posted by sleeping bear at 11:36 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


A fool and his dining money are soon parted? Except for the cited Pasquale's/Pasquale'$ namespace collision if you want to eat local do some research; even that one was caught. If you stab at whatever is presented in front of you 100% you are the problem, not the corporate pivot you clicked into.

Good luck to all the creative souls, even the corporate ones. My State Fair pivoted into $40/2 "servings" reservations to-go. These are wild times.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:56 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I thought that Chuck E Cheese had already rebranded itself as Five Nights at Freddy's.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:01 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


For like 25 years AB has tried to get some of Shiner Bock’s market in Texas (and then elsewhere) with a sound-alike called ZiegenBock. It’s super gross, like all things big beer does.

They have gotten far more about sophisticated over time - now they just buy the market.
posted by rtimmel at 12:08 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


A comment I read elsewhere on this story: "It's better than Little Caesars". I believe this.
posted by el io at 12:09 PM on May 22


To rephrase, "we knew our pizza was too crap for anyone to order it for delivery, so we decided to try to maybe make some pizza with a minimum quantity of flavor, but we're still thinking of serving the same old flavorless pizza to the suckers that actually come to our business."

Well, on the other hand, consider that CEC's usual core audience is that most discriminating of pizza eaters: Preteen children. So it can't be too spicy, it can't be too sauce-y, it can't be too anything or it might make the smalls want to do something else for their birthday party. Find that milquetoastiest of centers and keep 30 kids fed for the best profit.

On the other other hand, their delivery service is presumably going to adults who realize they have better options, so time to step up to the plate and do better.
posted by Kyol at 12:13 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


They have gotten far more about sophisticated over time - now they just buy the market.

There's also the one where they buy a chunk of somebody, then quietly later buy the whole thing.

AB InBev, through their 'growth and innovation' VC group ZX Ventures, funds beer websites and podcasts, beer rating apps, beer subscription services, Instagram influencer wine brands, beer vending machines, one of the largest homebrew-supply shops, and a turnkey countertop homebrew machine that's like the Keurig, or maybe that juice startup thing, of homebrewing. It's a lot (that list also includes things that are owned by other big beer corporations).

There's probably a pretty good FPP in there somewhere.
posted by box at 1:06 PM on May 22 [9 favorites]


The last time I had Chuck E Cheese pizza was the summer after freshman year at college when a friend and I went on our own cause we wanted pizza and to play ski-ball. I'm not a pizza snob by any means and was even more open to really bad pizza at that time but even then it wasn't something we enjoyed. I can't imagine seeking it out on its own. This front company's pizza would have to be miles above what I tasted then for me to feel like I wasn't defrauded when ordering. If your product is shitty don't lie about who you are to entice people who wouldn't buy your product if they knew it was from you. Just don't lie to people. It shouldn't be hard.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:17 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The restaurant industry was on the cusp of a major change from full service to fast casual before covid. And now were getting "gourmet" chuck e cheese. This really is the Back to the Future 2 timeline.
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:56 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


There's also the one where [ABInBEv] buy a chunk of somebody, then quietly later buy the whole thing.
That's what happened with local favorite Karbach, I'm pretty sure. The press release said "partnership," but it's a buyout. All the local beer-nerd bars immediately quit carrying Karbach.

Buy local, grow together. And fuck InBev.
posted by uberchet at 2:30 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that was a buyout.
posted by box at 2:46 PM on May 22


A few years ago, I was working for a small hyperlocal paper and website doing web stuff (among other things). It was a pretty small office -- there was another office elsewhere and a lot of people worked from home/etc. We also had a "family" magazine attached.

So one day, there was about 4 or 5 of us there in the office and the family mag people get a call that Chuck-E-Cheese is going to stop by so we can taste their new fancy pizzas. Complete with someone in a Chuck-E-Cheese costume. I think they thought this was going to be some amazing photo op for them, where they'd get this huge staff and be able to take a photo. Everyone tried to explain to these Chuck-E-Cheese people that there was only like 5 of us and it was not going to be the experience they were expecting.

They basically told us "too late, we're already on our way." So they came in, we all gathered in the conference room, served us some "fancy" pizzas (I think one was like a white chicken pizza and I forget what else -- I'm pretty sure that being vegetarian, I couldn't eat any of them) and they told us how they were trying to appeal to "moms" with a more modern menu and stuff. I think they gave us some random toys, too.

The whole thing was awkward and everyone knew it. But at least they didn't drag the person in the Chuck-E-Cheese costume inside. That person got to wait in the van.

(It was also like a 90-degree day outside. I would not want to be the person in that costume.)
posted by darksong at 2:48 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I mean, a local brewpub has to have an exit I suppose. And being bought by a bigger entity is that exit. Pizza doesn't really work that way, at least I've not heard of Pizza Hut, I'm sorry The HUT, buying up local shops.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:05 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The beer was absolute garbage. Presumably a craft beer enthusiast wouldn't notice that it tasted like fetid swamp water?

Maybe some aspiring enthusiast dipping their toes into the craft beer section for the first time picks this fake brand, is disgusted, and returns to "safe" big name brands and never looks back again. Win for Molson?
posted by Pryde at 9:35 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


OMG that Irving Chuck E Cheese was my local one and I can vouch for the quality of the pizza. My kids were exactly the right age and there were always coupons in the Sunday paper. Good times; good pizza.
posted by CathyG at 8:01 PM on May 23


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