American Public Media’s Marketplace did a story yesterday on the $1.3 billion sale of Chuck E. Cheese to a global equity firm and they speculated that the investment firm may “send Chuck to Russia.” Why? The people in Russia and Soviet-block countries have more spending money they are drawn to foods with American trademarks. Now, Chuck E. Cheese hasn’t seen the best of times here in the US despite going through some changes over the past several years. They’ve updated their food, they’ve changed Chuck from a rat to a mouse and got punk-pop singer Jaret Reddick to do the voice. Still, the brand didn’t grow and was knocked from #91 to #99 on the “top 100” list in the Nation’s Restaurant News trade publication. With so many alternative forms of entertainment these days, it’s not too surprising that Chuck can’t bring in the kids like he used to.
There are few American kids from the 80s and 90s that don’t know the brand Chuck E. Cheese. They probably have fond memories of birthday parties and Friday nights from their childhood, but Chuck isn’t seeing the same love now. Still, with such great brand awareness here, is it possible to translate that into a hot brand in an overseas market? Can Chuck breathe life back into his rock star career by bringing American-style pizza and entertainment to kids elsewhere in the world? Only time will tell that’s what Apollo Global Mangement intends to do, but as a kid from the 80s, I hope that Chuck reinvents himself in a way that brings back the fun I remember.