Chuck E. Cheese declared bankruptcy last week and announced the permanent closing of 34 locations. The location about two miles from my home is not on the list of closures, though if it were, I wouldn’t be upset.
As a child, I didn’t visit Chuck E. Cheese, which changes the way you view the restaurant as an adult. Without the gauzy curtain of childhood nostalgia, the awfulness of a Chuck E. Cheese is laid bare:
Bad pizza. Loud games. Poorly parented children. Creepy, animatronic rat.
But recently I discovered, thanks to a friend, that the story of Chuck E. Cheese is much worse.
The origin story for Chuck E. Cheese, published briefly on the company’s website in 2012 as a digital book, is kind of horrific.
Chuck grew up in an orphanage. His middle name is Entertainment, which tells you a lot about the scumbag parents who ultimately abandoned him. Growing up with lots of orphaned children, Chuck had the chance to celebrate their many birthdays and quickly fell in love with the song “Happy Birthday.”
So his taste in music was nonexistent.
But because no one knew the date of Chuck’s birthday, his birthday was never celebrated.
Why someone didn’t just invent a birth date for Chuck is beyond me. In school, we allow kids with summer birthdays to choose a day during the year to celebrate their pretend birthday. The human resources department of the orphanage didn’t have a solution in place for kids left on their stoop without a passport?
Also, how is Chuck supposed to survive in this bureaucratic world without a birth certificate? They were setting him up for failure.
When Chuck becomes an adult, whatever age that happens to be in rat years, he’s kicked out of the orphanage. He goes to New York City and takes refuge in a pizza parlor, but when the owner discovers a rat living in his restaurant rent free, he tries to chase him away.
In response, Chuck begins singing (because that makes sense), and the proprietor is so overwhelmed by Chuck’s vocal talent that he shouts, “A mouse that can sing? My restaurant is saved! I’m a-gonna make you a star!”
The man immediately changes the name of his restaurant to Chuck E. Cheese and decides to make a rat the centerpiece of his business.
Then tragedy strikes once again.
During Chuck’s first performance, the audience boos him. Apparently he can’t sing after all. But then Chuck sings “Happy Birthday” to the only child in the audience, and the crowd doesn’t boo, because even terrible singers can sing “Happy Birthday.”
Also, adults don’t boo children on their birthdays.
So the pizza place becomes a place where children celebrate their birthdays and Chuck gets to sing his favorite song.
Also, Chuck still has never celebrated a birthday, and no one has ever sung “Happy Birthday” for him.
That’s it. Origin story explained.
It’s hard to imagine how this iconic business, which was founded in 1977 by the man who owned Atari in hopes of creating an outlet for his video games, has fallen on such hard times.
The origin story alone is priceless.