Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's Cookin', Doc?

Taking a page from one of my favorite blogs, Yowp: Stuff About Early Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, I thought I would start presenting various odds and ends I have dug up while combing through various online newspaper archives. I have come across a few odd, interesting (to me, at least) and forgotten footnotes in Looney Tunes history. For instance, did you know of Bugs Bunny's failed attempt to break into the themed-restaurant business in the early 1980's (a la Chuck E. Cheese)? Neither did I.

From December 4, 1983:
Restaurants serve up Mel Blanc characters
By Vernon Scott
United Press International

HOLLYWOOD --- If your town doesn't have a Gadgets restaurant, chances are it will within the next year or two, offering an entirely new entertainment program along with steaks, hamburgers and pizzas.
Gadgets is a newly designed national franchise outfit involving Warner Bros. and other corporations with plans for a string of 150 eateries around the country.
So far only Springfield, Ohio and Baltimore have Gadgets in full operation.
What distinguishes Gadgets from other chain restaurants, Howard Johnson for instance, is the entertainment factor.
Diners at Gadgets will see a completely automated 20-minute show every half hour or so featuring 8-foot robots with pre-recorded dialogue and songs.
But the robots are very special and familiar characters indeed: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales, Tweety Bird and Sylvester, Henery Hawk, Foghorn Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil and other wackos from the Warner Bros. cartoon factory.
Those who have visited Disneyland are familiar with the autoanimatronics shows featured in the "America Sings" attractions at both theme parks. Gadgets' figures and shows might be compared to them.
The dialogue and music, including close harmony, were recorded by Mel Blanc, who has given voice to movie and TV animated cartoons for more than 45 years.
"Every restaurant will have 50 different entertainment programs, so there won't be a lot of repetition," Blanc said the other day.

What happened? I won't post the full text here (you can find it via this link), but an article the following July in Nation's Restaurant News painted a much less rosy picture about the Gadgets chain. There was behind-the-scene turmoil and high costs were rapidly killing the few existing locations.

Because of high development costs and demographics, Gadgets has altered its original concept of combining the ambience of an eating places and lounge for young adults with a family restaurant that features robotic cartoon characters on a stage. The new concept, Gadgets Cafe, is smaller and does not have the Looney Tunes show. Executives say the original concept will be used primarily as a growth vehicle overseas.


The cafe concept was rolled out because of space limitations, investment costs and demographics. Some locations were just not large enough to contain the separate dining rooms that feature the stage shows. And in some markets the demographic base was not families with young children--the prime market for the dinner with Looney Tunes--but young adults who preferred a bar atmosphere with current music.

Even in the full-sized Gadgets units, the stage shows have been reduced in frequency to just two to three hours a day. This indicates the trend away from robotics in Gadgets as well as in other restaurant chains.

Gadgets began growing at a time when the interest in computerized animated shows in restaurants was going strong. Most of the companies that were doing well were pizza chains like Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theater and Showbiz Pizza Place, which have suffered great financial difficulties since then.

A search of the web didn't turn up anything else on Gadgets. No blurry photos of the giant robotic Looney Tunes characters, no fuzzy childhood memories posted on nostalgia-themed blogs. It sounds like they really put Mel to work on this idea, and it's a shame that a treasure-trove of audio of Blanc as the LT characters is now probably lost to the ages. If anyone has any more information, photos, etc of this short-lived venture leave us a comment or shoot us an e-mail at looneyblog ---at--- yahoo [dot] com.


Dave Mackey said...

Yes, I had heard of Gadgets. Mainly because I worked there! I worked at the unit in Ocean, NJ. I was hired to do game room, but was eventually taken off that and put on the food line. Even wore the Bugs Bunny suit one day but made the cardinal mistake of making him talk. (I did the damned voice PRETTY GOOD.) Our Gadgets eventually closed down and became an independent restaurant, and even later the offices for a radio station. The mall that it was in has since been demolished and redeveloped, so the building isn't around any more.

Did you try looking under the restaurant's original name, Gizmos?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember the name Gadgets (or Gizmos) but I do recall what was probably an affiliated project at the Baltimore Inner Harbor. There is an old power plant adjacent to the water, and in the early 80s, There was a big effort to refurbish it and turn it into an entertainment center/eatery/amusement park. They called it "The Power Plant" and there was lots of hype about the Looney Tunes characters theming and how this was going to be the Next Big Thing. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Gadgets restaurant was in that complex.

I think within 2-3 years, the Power Plant was downscaled and then closed. It eventually re-opened in another form years later, without any WB characters.

I think they were hoping to somehow combine Chuck E. Cheese and what we now know as Dave & Busters. However they executed it just didn't draw people in after an initial visit. The whole mess reminds of of Sony's Metreon "high tech mall" in San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

I too worked at a Gadgets. The one located in Westbury, NY. I was a waitress there from its opening until it had a unexpected closing in '92. I was just going through some of my old things and came across some of the arcade coins. My son was wondering where they were from and if they had any value? I do not see any other sites that mention Gadgets or the coins. Anyone interested in them? Please post and I will check back.

Anonymous said...

I worked at Gadget's in Niles, Ohio at the Eastwood Mall, from 1983 through 1984 or early 1985 I think. I have to say, the uniforms sucked LOL! Waitresses had to wear those ankle long, wrap-around skirts that had to be pinned halfway down or you showed all the kiddies your stuff when the breeze from the kitchen doors hit it! I happened upon this site looking for pics and stuff to show some friends on facebook.

I actually kinda talked to Mel Blanc once. There was a local child whose wish from the "Make a Wish" foundation was to meet and talk to Bugs. They had Mel call the store, and I was perched by the phone with explicit instructions from the manager to put him through immediately when he called. I was so excited when the call came, I forgot to put the phone on hold, and I hung up on him LOL!....Needless to say, I got a major reaming!

Anonymous said...

I am interested in anything Gadgets related. Specifically photos and tokens. I frequented the Ocean, NJ location mentioned above as a youth and would love to see photos again but can never find anything on the web.

Cinde said...

I worked at the Gadgets in Towson Maryland and have very good memories of that job while I was in college. Yes the skirts were crazy and were so long you stepped on them all the time. Before the grand opening we had mock trials where the waiters and waitresses waited on eachother.... booze was flowing and we could all barely walk out...boy times have changed! It was a great concept and I think the food was pretty good also. I did get sick of everyone asking whent he show was going to come on! Any other past Towson was a great group of people!

John W. Plummer said...

I've got a few, too..john. Usonian (at aol dot com)

Anonymous said...

I used to frequent the Westbury, NY location. I remember the Sammy robot coming to life at a piano several times a night. I loved those Sammy Whammey drinks and still have some of those glasses with the stickers on them. Anyone know the recipe?

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