The Artisanal Pizza You Ordered Might Secretly Be Chuck E. Cheese
To drum up delivery businesses, big restaurant chains are rebranding themselves in apps like Grubhub. That could mean more competition for local joints.
It’s my opinion that Chuck E. Cheese pizza should be scarfed down near a ball pit while an anthropomorphic mouse sings “Happy Birthday” to a screaming child somewhere. For many of a certain age, these are precious memories. But regardless of your sentiments, the doughy, suspiciously lopsided pies of Chuck E. Cheese can hardly be associated with good pizza, or even pizza that’s passable enough to satisfy a craving for delivery.
So it was a surprise to learn that Chuck E. Cheese pizza can be consumed in the comfort of your own home, delivered via on-demand apps such as Grubhub, as was revealed last month when a Reddit user documented their experience of accidentally ordering from the children’s entertainment center. Pizza made in the kitchens of select Chuck E. Cheese locations is sold under the name “Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings” on Grubhub, allowing the business to generate revenue while technically remaining closed due to the coronavirus. The brand is owned by CEC Entertainment, Inc., which also owns Chuck E. Cheese, and a trademark registration was filed for the restaurant name on April 16, 2020. (The name derives from one Pasqually P. Pieplate, an Italian chef character and drummer for Chuck E. Cheese’s resident rock band.)
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“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. They also said that Pasqually’s uses different ingredients from the standard Chuck E. Cheese pie to produce a “more premium pizza experience.”
To make up for a loss of foot traffic as customers take measures to slow the spread of Covid-19, restaurants are scrambling to find creative new angles on their businesses. Some eateries are now selling groceries, while others are renting out unused kitchens to commissary companies. Chuck E. Cheese seems to have come up with the tactic of masquerading as a small business to market menu items that might otherwise be unappealing to consumers — an approach that could be adopted by more restaurants as the coronavirus continues to push restaurants and their customers toward delivery.
The strategy isn’t new, and large chains have created separate brands, or “virtual restaurants,” on delivery apps for years. Like Chuck E. Cheese, physical restaurants operate these online brands out of their kitchens, sometimes serving the same food to customers who are none the wiser. Many are outed by the addresses they list on delivery apps, which are the same as brick-and-mortar restaurants with different names, and customers aren’t always happy when they spot the overlap. In the United Kingdom, for example, fast-casual chains like Frankie & Benny’s sold identical menu items under “trendy” sub-brands to the ire of customers who said they would have avoided those restaurants if they knew where the food was made.
Pizza made in the kitchens of select Chuck E. Cheese locations is sold under the name “Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings” on Grubhub, allowing the business to generate revenue while technically remaining closed.
These shifts now intersect with a mass rush to delivery apps, as restaurants have few other options for staying in business. In April, Applebee’s registered the name “Neighborhood Wings” and now sells wings on Grubhub. Likewise, this month barbecue chain Smokey Bones began selling burgers and wings on delivery apps under “The Burger Experience” and “The Wing Experience,” respectively.
As more nationwide chains break out into virtual operations, they could create a new kind of competition for small local restaurants that have become increasingly reliant on technology platforms during the coronavirus crisis. Even customers who intend to order from small local joints using these apps, which charge delivery fees as high as 30%, could instead find themselves ordering from a sub-brand of a large chain operation.
That’s what happened when Kendall Neff placed a Grubhub order for two large pizzas from Pasqually’s, thinking she was supporting a local Philadelphia restaurant based on its name. Neff told OneZero that only after Googling its address on 270 Swedesford Road did she realize it was technically a Chuck E. Cheese. She then cross-referenced both menus and noticed they were identical, and then confirmed with the Grubhub driver that her order was indeed dispatched from a Chuck E. Cheese.
To be fair, there is a Pasqually’s Pizza in West Philadelphia, and it’s unclear whether CEC Entertainment was aware of this when registering the name of its own restaurant. Pasqually’s Pizza has been around since 1995, according to one Reddit user, and the restaurant’s Yelp page goes back to at least 2009, solidifying its status as the original Pasqually’s.
What’s more, Chuck E. Cheese also delivers pizza on Grubhub under its regular name. And the website for Chuck E. Cheese once allowed you to order from its menu online, though this feature appears to have been disabled, presumably because the coronavirus has shuttered its locations.
Apart from the disappointing realization that she’d ordered from a Chuck E. Cheese and not a neighborhood pizza joint, Neff also doubts there’s any difference between a Pasqually’s pie and the ones served to children. She described the pizzas as “unremarkable” and recalls them arriving in a nondescript, Italian-looking box.
“We have eaten Chuck E. Cheese pizza multiple times in the past, and this was clearly one in the same,” Neff said. “Nevertheless, we ate the pizza, and it wasn’t too bad! Not sure I’d ever order Chuck E. Cheese food again without being inside the actual establishment. I truly think the pizza tastes better in the party environment of Charles Entertainment Cheese!”