Steven Scarduzio figures he knows enough about kids and parents to make one whopper of a bet: That instead of trekking to the local Chuck E. Cheese for the usual pizza/video experience, they'll be willing to try out a variation of the theme on the ground floor of a Brentwood office building.
It's called Cartoonsville, slated to open in October and billed as a healthier alternative to the traditional kiddie fare of burgers, pizzas, fries and soft drinks.
Cartoonsville's menu was developed by Orestes Rodriguez, former head chef of the Hard Rock Cafe in Los Angeles, and it has all the earmarks of L.A. trendy: fat-and-cholesterol-free fries, pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven and an array of fresh salads.
Geared to kids ages 1 through 12, Cartoonsville will offer a full range of entertainment, from state-of-the-art computer video and electronic games to a low-tech arcade, as well as a "scream-free" lounge for adults, said Scarduzio, one of three partners launching the company.
Scarduzio, the father of three young children, was at a Chuck E. Cheese location several years ago when, surveying the crowded scene, his wife suggested that he should buy one of the restaurants.
There weren't any available for purchase, so he decided to develop a kid-themed restaurant of his own.
Teaming up with his friend John M. Rosenfield, the pair let their imagination run wild while doing research, visiting countless kid-oriented restaurants and scouting locations.
"There was nothing to keep customers coming back after an initial visit," Scarduzio said of their observations.
They also recognized the importance of getting the kids fed and fast.
"We are going to offer quick food service that will serve up the kids' beverages and food shortly after being seated, which is a great feature for kids as well as the adults," Scarduzio said. "We know how hard it is for kids to sit still and wait for their food while all this action is going on, so we'll get their beverages and food right out to them so their parents can turn them loose at the games and then dine at their own leisure."
Shirts, hats and other merchandise described by Scarduzio as "Disney meets The Gap" will be emblazoned with the embroidered image of the restaurant's main mascot, King Iggy.
Costumed characters will entertain diners in a hourly live variety show and at special occasion celebrations, such as birthday parties, where spotlights, sparklers and singers will be employed.
Scarduzio said the birthday party feature is designed to provide one-stop shopping for parents who can order custom-decorated cakes, party favors, a specific type of entertainment and a customized menu.
The pair has an extensive background in restaurants and entertainment.
For the past 10 years, Rosenfield has been coordinating charity fundraisers for the Hard Rock Cafe chain, as well as finding and buying memorabilia used to decorate the restaurants.
Scarduzio says his background is as a concert producer, restaurant owner/operator and television and film actor. His credits include the TV soap opera "All My Children" and feature film "The Cotton Club."
The restaurant's location, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Bundy Drive, is on the ground floor of the 14-story Wilshire Bundy Plaza. That location was chosen by the pair because their research showed there is no direct competition on the Westside, and the location is central to all Westside communities.
"Brentwood is about as 50-yard-line as you can get and it's a safe, affluent neighborhood," Scarduzio said.
But that very location may turn out to be the Achilles' heel of Cartoonsville, according to Dick Carter, senior research associate at Beitler Commercial Realty Service.
"There has been no successful restaurant on the ground floor of an office building in all of Southern California," Carter said. "Several restaurants have come and gone in that precise location, mainly because people don't want to have dinner at the same place they had lunch."
Carter said the kiddie theme also makes it unlikely that the Westside's large population of single adults will ever frequent the restaurant. "When is the last time you wanted to spend your dinner hour in a restaurant full of kids if you don't have your own along," he added.
With financial backing from Japanese businessman Nobuhiro Niwa, who owns a commercial leasing company in Gifu, Japan, the partners will roll out the restaurant in Tokyo within the next year. The three also hope to franchise Cartoonsville in China.
In addition, there are plans for Cartoonsville to become the entertainment anchor for malls in Denver; Dearborn, Mich.; Baltimore; and Norfolk, Va. with goundbreaking at three of the malls within the next 90 days, said Scarduzio.
"The concept should be well-received outside the Los Angeles area, as kids just aren't as exposed to quality, hip, live shows at a young age as they are in the entertainment capital of the world," he said.
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