Chuck E. Cheese, alcohol a bad mix, say protesters

April 19, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer

Debbie Sudano and Jackie Aburn say that rides, games, children, Chuck E. Cheese and alcohol don't mix.

They appeared before the Baltimore County liquor board yesterday, hoping to persuade the panel not to renew the beer and wine license of the popular Chuck E. Cheese family restaurant in Essex.

Restaurant officials said they didn't know what all the fuss was about, but they voluntarily agreed to suspend alcohol sales for 120 days to give residents time to express their opinions.

Chuck E. Cheese, a national chain based in the Dallas area, offers its young clientele games, rides, pizza and sandwiches. Its restaurants are popular sites for children's birthday parties, which is what bothered the protesters.

"Most parents aren't going to serve alcohol at parties at home for their young children. I know I don't," Mrs. Sudano told the liquor board. "So why must children and parents who want to have birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese be subjected to alcohol around them?"

Mrs. Sudano, who lives nearby and brought petitions with several hundred signatures from concerned parents, said she took her children to Chuck E. Cheese but decided not to return when she learned the restaurant served alcohol.

Richard T. Huston, executive vice president of ShowBiz Pizza Time Inc., Chuck E. Cheese's parent company, volunteered to suspend the sale of alcohol for 120 days, beginning May 1, to allow time to survey residents.

"If the survey shows the majority of the community objects to alcohol being sold, Chuck E. Cheese will turn in its license, because we don't want to go against the will of the community," Mr. Huston said.

That was good enough for the liquor board, which renewed the beer and light wine license on the condition that Chuck E. Cheese refrain from selling alcohol while conducting the survey.

Charles E. Norton, Jr. chairman of the three-member panel, said the license was renewed because there have not been any complaints or violations associated with the restaurant.

"But we are concerned over the issues the residents raised, and the board hopes through your survey [that] you come to the right conclusions, or you will face the same protest again," Mr. Norton told Mr. Huston.

The protesters wanted nothing short of a revoked license.

"If came in here asking for a liquor license for a combination pub, day care center, do you think you would issue me one?" Mrs. Aburn asked the board.

Mrs. Aburn, a Middle River grandmother who ran her own pub for 20 years, told the board that drunken driving is prevalent enough without without parents' driving their children home from Chuck E. Cheese after drinking alcohol.

"Don't these children count for something?" she asked.

Protesters threatened corporate officials with a boycott if the license was renewed, Mrs. Aburn said.

The Essex Chuck E. Cheese, in the Diamond Point Plaza shopping center at 8354 Eastern Ave., obtained its original beer and wine license in August 1991. There was no opposition at the time, and company attorney Melinda Antalek said the corporation had obtained the signatures of 100 local residents on a petition in favor of beer and wine sales at the restaurant.

Mr. Huston told the board that alcohol accounts for 2 percent of the restaurant's sales but noted that 25 percent to 30 percent of adults who go there on weekends drink alcohol.

Chuck E. Cheese doesn't promote alcohol in its advertisements, Mr. Nuston said, because it want to maintain its emphasis as a family fun center and restaurant.

Mr. Huston said that 90 percent of the 327 Chuck E. Cheese restaurants nationwide have beer and wine licenses, including three of the seven in the Baltimore area.

Two local competitors in the family fun center and restaurant business do not serve alcohol.

"We're strictly rated 'G' here," said Scott Hessenauer, assistant manager for the Discovery Zone in the Golden Ring Plaza. The Discovery Zone Inc. has two other centers, one in Owings Mills and one in Glen Burnie, with plans for three more in the area, said Mr. Hessenauer.

Lynne Bergling, assistant director for marketing and promotion for Enchanted Forest Family Funjungle, which has centers in Ellicott City and Perry Hall, said the firm has no plans to serve alcohol.

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