Out with Wolfgang Puck, in with the heir to Chuck E. Cheese?
As the high-profile Hollywood & Highland shopping center prepares for the opening of a UWink restaurant, UWink's creator, Nolan Bushnell, winces when he hears it compared to the Chuck E. Cheese pizza-and-play chain one of his former ventures. He considers UWink "new tech," unlike like other restaurants that offer pool tables and video games alongside traditional table service.
"Dave & Buster's and GameWorks are 'old tech' and more like Chuck E. Cheese at these places you eat and then play," said Bushnell, 65, who also was president and founder of Atari Corp.
At UWink, which combines elements of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, diners order their food from a computer at a table, then play while they wait, and even play while they eat. Bushnell opened the first UWink in Woodland Hills in 2006.
The new UWink will occupy the space at the retail center formerly occupied by Puck's chichi Brasserie Vert.
But is a restaurant that specializes in computer interaction the right fit for the landmark mall that features a range of upscale stores and eateries, such as Louis Vuitton, Koji's Sushi & Shabu Shabu and Trastevere Ristorante Italiano?
"Wolfgang Puck ran an excellent operation. But we are hipper and cooler," Bushnell said.
Numerous issues played into UWink's decision to go Hollywood: the success of the Lucky Strike bowling alley at the shopping center, the upcoming opening of the $100 million production of Cirque Du Soleil at the Kodak Theatre, and the myriad Walt Disney events across the street at the El Capitan theater.
The demographics of the tourists, visitors and the nearby Hollywood Hills residents, who frequent the area, fit in with UWink's target audience.
"If you really look at the issues of age range, affluence, disposable income it's all very, very good and above average," Bushnell said.
UWink signed the lease with CIM/H & H; Retail LP in December. Construction began last month.
The Hollywood outpost is about 2,000 square feet larger than its Woodland Hills restaurant, and will feature a separate restaurant and swanky U-shaped bar to draw the Hollywood nightlife crowd.
UWink plans to roll out new restaurants in Mountain View, Calif., and Miami later this year. The chain may face challenges in building appeal beyond a niche.
Restaurant consultant William H. Bender, head of Santa Clara-based William H. Bender & Associates, said not everyone wants a side dish of technology with their meals.
"UWink has done a lot of cutting-edge stuff," Bender said. "But the last thing I want to see when I go out to eat is a computer."
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.