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Feb 24, 2016

Memories of SHOWBIZ Pizza Place

Some of the fondest and happiest memories from my youth stemmed from visiting Showbiz Pizza Place. Showbiz is the now defunct sister restaurant to Chuck E. Cheese.  Like Chuck E. Cheese, the restaurant focused on pizza, animatronic entertainment, and video games, all within a family friendly atmosphere.  After my family moved from California to Colorado in the late 70s, I found myself dreadfully missing our once regular trips to Disneyland, and Showbiz was the closest thing to Disney magic you could find when living 1300 miles west of Anaheim.  

I'll never forget my first visit to Showbiz Pizza Place.  Giving in to my desperate plea's, my parents reluctantly took me there for dinner one Saturday night. We stood in line outside for the better part of an hour on a cold Colorado winter evening.  My Dad kept grumbling about the long wait, but I didn't hear any other complaints from him once we got inside.  I knew immediately as I stepped through the door, that Showbiz Pizza was my personal heaven.  After all, there was pizza (my favorite food), skee ball, pin ball, video games, and awesome animatronic entertainment!


My 1980 Billy Bob mug
To this day I can vividly remember glancing over at my parents from time to time, only to see them watching me with big smiles on their faces.  At the end of the night, my dad bought me a Billy Bob glass mug to commemorate my visit.  I loved that mug, and still possess it to this very day.  I even wrote an essay at school on the following Monday, documenting my first ever visit to Showbiz Pizza Place for which I received an A+.


The animatronic band that performed on the main stage was known as The Rocka-fire Explosion. The band featured, Fatz Geronimo the gorilla, Mitzi Mozzarella the mouse, Dook LaRue the dog, and Beach Bear.  Just to the right of the center stage was the Showbiz franchise mascot, Billy Bob Brockolli the bear.  To the left of the main stage was Rolfe DeWolfe the stand up comic, and Earl Schmerle his puppet sidekick. Billy Bob's buddy "Looney Bird" would occasionally pop up from his nest (an old oil drum full of moonshine) to offer some comic relief.




While many of my friends weren't too excited about watching the entertainment, and would high tail it straight to the arcade or skee-ball alley.   I on the other hand, would take in all I could get.  I too would spend lots of time in their massive video arcade, but also spent even more time watching the Rock-afire Explosion.  I actually remember being in the midst of playing video games, and hearing the band start up.  On more than one occasion, I would cut my games short, or deliberately make myself lose so I could head back to the dining room to watch the Rocka-fire Explosion perform.

I always loved Showbiz Pizza Place, even when it wasn't "cool" for kids my age to dig it any more.  I remember many an afternoon where I left my high school campus to go get lunch at Showbiz by myself.  I was always the only kid my age in the restaurant. Other patrons were usually Moms that were taking their toddlers or preschoolers out to burn off some energy.  I would sit alone watching the shows, and would then hit the arcade to play a couple games of Donkey Kong or Asteroids before finally heading back to school.

Some years later when I lived on the East coast and my firstborn was a toddler, I would often take him to Showbiz for lunch. I was usually the only Dad in the restaurant surrounded by Moms.  Before moving back to Colorado in the mid 90s, I took my son to Showbiz one more time.  Little did I know, it would be the last time we would ever see a Showbiz Pizza Place ever again.  Upon moving back to Colorado, I learned that the old Showbiz I frequented as a boy was now a Chuck E. Cheese.  I searched high and low for Showbiz restaurants in surrounding cities, and even other states, but learned that all had suffered the same fate. Showbiz was the casualty of corporate unification that converted all Showbiz stores into the Chuck E. Cheese's.  That move never sat well with me, and while I tried to embrace the change for my kids.. my family eventually stopped patronizing the chain.

The magic was gone, and it was evident in nearly every aspect of the business. The entertainment was replaced with a sub par abomination that had no soul or magic that the Showbiz franchise exuded. As I got older and started reminiscing about my Showbiz memories, I read stories of the infamous corporate transformation.  Ex employees stated that virtually overnight, they were instructed to destroy and throw out all kinds of props, decorations, stage sets, and in some cases, animatronic characters.  However, during this dark time, many sets and Rock-afire bands were saved, and would eventually experience some of their former glory many years down the line.

Below are some corporate unification videos showing employees how to dismantle sets, characters, and instructions on what to destroy. The videos then go on to show how to replace the sets and characters with Chuck E. Cheese characters. They're actually somber videos to watch for Showbiz fans like me, and very much feels like watching someone dismantle a part of my childhood.

 

After some digging on the web, I found that several Showbiz enthusiasts actually own old Rocka-fire Explosion bands complete with the software to run their very own shows!  Below is a video from one such fan.  This clip even features the first performance I ever saw by The Rocka-fire Explosion back in 1980, during my first visit to Showbiz Pizza Place.  Gosh I love YouTube!

 

If you'd like more information about Showbiz, or would just like to reminisce, the most comprehensive Showbiz website I've found on the web is at Showbizpizza.com Also.. the documentary Rock-afire Explosion is available on DVD, and can be purchased on Amazon.  Check out the trailer here..

Order your copy at www.rockafiremovie.com

 

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