A sign for Chuck E. Cheese's.

Things I Didn’t Need to Know: Chuck E. Cheese Has a Whole Backstory and It’s Incredibly Bleak

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As restaurants have become so reliant on delivery services and carry-out orders, it makes sense that a place like Chuck E. Cheese’s would have to get creative with their marketing. While it’s technically a restaurant, it’s mostly known for its arcade, germ-ridden ball pit, and animatronic singing animals, so I don’t know how many people are going to jump over to Grub Hub to get one of their pizzas without the rest of the whole Chuck E. Cheese experience.

As a workaround, the restaurant has started doing business under the name Pasqually’s Pizza, named after one of the Chuck E. Cheese’s characters.

While it’s a bit disingenuous to disguise a Chuck E. Cheese’s as a different (and local) business, it’s also pretty genius marketing. And apparently it isn’t that uncommon. Food & Wine quotes Reddit user u/jaysonmgaydos: “I work for Grubhub, it’s what we call a virtual kitchen, usually used for places that want to try to have a different concept to create more income but its delivery only.”

With Chuck E. Cheese’s trending all day today on Twitter, not only did we all learn way more than we needed to about the company’s branding choices (so much, in fact, that Pasqually’s—at least the one in my area—seems to have been scrubbed from delivery service websites), but it turns out there’s a whole Chuck E. Cheese rabbit (er, rat) hole just waiting to be fallen into.

This was the day I learned that Chuck E. Cheese has a whole backstory and it is incredibly depressing.

Apparently, a lot of people are under the assumption that the founder of Chuck E. Cheese’s was an orphan who started the restaurant as a way to fill the void of being raised without being able to celebrate his birthday. That’s not true—instead, that bleak bio belongs to the fictional rat.

Chuck (whose middle name is Entertainment, by the way) was raised in the St. Marinara’s orphanage. He never knew when his birthday was so he never got to have a birthday party. There’s a whole children’s book on the restaurant’s website detailing his story but the gist of it is that after winning $50 in a Pong competition, Chuck E. moved to New York and holed up in a restaurant Ratatouille-style. The chef (the now-famed Pasqually) nearly killed him but the rat started singing “Happy Birthday” before he got smashed with a rolling pin and Pasqually was so impressed that he befriended Chuck and basically set him up with an open mic night at his restaurant.

I swear I’m not making any of this up.

Chuck E. ended up getting stage fright, though, and he froze in front of the audience. But then the power of birthdays took over. From that book:

The crowd booed. And booed. And left. And Pasqually was heartbroken. So was Chuck E. He didn’t want to disappoint Pasqually.

As Chuck E. stared out the window, the crowd poured out. He saw a young boy walking. He was holding his parent’s hands and smiling. But most important, he was wearing a birthday crown. It was his birthday! Without another thought, Chuck E. began to sing his favorite song to the boy. “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, little boy out on the streeeeet! Happy birthday to you!”

Pasqually changed the name of his restaurant from Pasqually’s to Chuck E. Cheese’s so I guess the real-life virtual kitchen wasn’t disingenuous—they’ve always been the same restaurant!

So now Chuck E. gets to spend every day singing “Happy Birthday” to children as a way of making up for the deep sadness of never being able to celebrate his own birthday as a child.

And that’s the incredibly depressing story of an animatronic rat.

(via @paulbensonsucks, image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.