GattiTown, a Texas-based pizza palace, to open in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — GattiTown, a Texas-based pizza palace once dubbed "Chuck E. Cheese's on steroids," is coming to Clearwater, the chain's first hop into the Sunshine State.

Opening Monday in the Bayside Bridge Plaza on McMullen-Booth Road, the buffet-and-bumper-car "eatertainment" venue will feature arcade games and party rooms attuned to families, youngsters and their friends.

GattiTown finds its center between tot-targeted restaurants like Chuck E. Cheese's and grown-up attractions like GameWorks or Dave & Buster's. There are no ball pits or bounce houses, nor beer or bloody shooting games.

Instead, stretched across 16,000 square feet are enough lights and video screens to keep an entire Little League enthralled. A Tampa investment firm is hoping it's enough to charm their parents, too.

"GattiTown is the premier pizza place with games in it," said Dharma Malempati, the president of Om Ventures, which owns development rights for the GattiTown chain in four Florida counties. "There's no easy word to define what this actually is until you walk in."

There is GattiPark, a sports room with TV screens several yards long; the Capitol Theatre, a room named after the downtown Clearwater landmark where cartoons and comedies will be screened; and the Midway, an arcade with dozens of games, a mini-bowling alley and a bumper-car arena.

Pizza, "SpaGatti" pastas and desserts are served at the "All-You-Care-To-Eat-&-Drink" buffet bar and the "Clearwater Fresh Market" salad bar, another nod to the chain's first Florida home. Adults get a plate for $8; kids, $5 to $7.

It is Om Ventures' first retail project, Malempati said, but they plan to expand the chain across the state, though their locations and projected income remain under wraps. The nearest GattiTowns are in Hattiesburg, Miss., and Greenville, S.C., 600 miles away.

Called The Pizza Place when it was opened in a small Texas town in 1964, its founder, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, later renamed it using his wife's maiden name (pronounced "Gaddy").

More than 125 GattiTowns and Gatti's Pizza restaurants now span the country, many the size of a Publix grocery store. The largest, at 70,000 square feet, includes a mini-golf course and an indoor go-kart track.

The franchise came to Clearwater due to its demographics; owners wanted 300,000 people on middle incomes within a 10-mile radius. About 18 months ago, crews began preparing the leased space for construction.

The Clearwater GattiTown's 65 employees began training this week in advance of Monday's soft opening. A grand opening is being planned for the weekend of Dec. 9.

The owners have done little advertising, talking mostly with school principals, Little League teams and religious youth groups. They're hoping that will keep them afloat amid a tough business climate.

"We felt our product, and the value we bring to the consumer, is good in a recession," Malempati said. "We offer a lot of value to a family."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

GattiTown, a Texas-based pizza palace, to open in Clearwater 11/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 11:24am]

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