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  1. Opinion

I ordered pizza from Pasqually’s, which is Chuck E. Cheese in disguise

Stephanie Hayes | This money move brings us right back to the ball pit.

In 1977, the first Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre boldly opened in San Jose, Calif. It ushered in a new era of arcade games, cardboardy pies, singing robots, ticket streams, plastic prizes and a chance for parents and kids to get away from each other.

In 2020, Year of Our Destruction, Pasqually’s Pizza and Wings quietly opened on food delivery app GrubHub. People ordered what they thought was new, local pizza.

But because Chuck E. Cheese children cannot be fooled, a sleuth in Philadelphia figured out that it was actually Chuck E. Cheese pizza and the internet agreed. Pasqually P. Pieplate is Chuck’s pizza chef character.

A wave of gleeful news stories Monday explored the strategy, along with a similar one from Applebee’s. In the era of UberEats and the like, virtual restaurants are nothing new. A representative sent a statement Tuesday that the company was “creatively adjusting to meet the needs of consumers in a unique way.”

I should have been outraged at the cynical corporate gambit, this dark rodent subterfuge. But I was delighted. I immediately checked GrubHub for a local Pasqually’s. There it was, at the same address as the Clearwater Chuck E. Cheese on U.S. 19.

Forty minutes later, a driver handed over a nondescript pizza box and plain Styrofoam containers.

The unmarked delivery from Pasqually's Pizza and Wings on May 18. [STEPHANIE HAYES | Times]

“Is this from Chuck E. Cheese?” I asked.

“Yes!” he said. We laughed merrily, wielding mental mallets upon a whack-a-mole. It felt so good to laugh!

As far as money moves go, this feels pretty harmless in the grand scheme of our national nightmare. Chuck E. Cheese is struggling in the crisis, according to Business Insider. Would you punch the same coin slot as a hundred other kids right now?

Charles Entertainment Cheese (that is real, look it up) is an icon for children. The early restaurants were dark and twisty, like an elementary school Studio 54. Fire up a candy cigarette and kick back with Munch’s Make Believe Band — Jasper, Helen Henny, Munch and Pasqually. And the rat. That glorious rat.

Related: He was lost. A Chuck E. Cheese robot helped him find his way.

But the best part was the freedom. Kids could scamper like squirrels, dashing back to the table every 20 minutes to slam a slice and make sure adults still existed. It was a safe way to test boundaries and go out of your mind on excess.

A packed Chuck E. Cheese in Brandon in 1999. [Times (1999)]

I do not mean to embarrass my parents, but they took us to Chuck’s way longer than they should have. My brother and I practically had 401Ks. We would play Skee-Ball for hours while they nibbled the salad bar and had “conversations.” I get it now.

No one knows what the future holds for places like Chuck’s, these temples of togetherness. So if they want to get a few bucks from GrubHub, I can deal.

Speaking of, the delivery pizza was wooden and greasy. The boneless wings were soggy nuggets. The cheese bread came with ranch to mask it. I am skeptical of the company line that “it is a different pizza that features a thicker crust and extra sauce, giving consumers a more flavorful, more premium pizza experience.”

Either way, this moment offered a brief connection to an easy memory. Fruit punch mustaches, ball pits, running in socks, bottom shelf prizes, other people.

Cheesy. Terrible. Wonderful.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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