A look at nationwide kid’s chain Chuck E. Cheese developing and rolling out gluten-free food options.
Chuck E. Cheese’s rollout late last year of gluten-free menu items was the result of a three-year effort, the family-dining and arcade game chain’s head of research and development said.
Irving, Texas-based CEC Entertainment Inc., the parent company to 562 Chuck E. Cheese’s units in 48 states and eight countries, had tested a gluten-free cheese pizza and cupcake in Minnesota stores earlier in 2012. The offerings went systemwide last November.
“When we began this process, it was important that we focused on doing gluten-free the right way and making our product accessible even for guests with strict gluten intolerance,” Chuck E. Cheese’s vice president of research and development Joe Elliot said.
The company worked with a pizza vendor with a gluten-free facility and a bake-in-bag manufacturer. The pizza remains sealed through cooking and delivery to the table, Elliot said, and an adult at the table opens it with a sealed personal pizza cutter.
The chocolate fudge cupcake — an important option for a brand that caters to many children’s birthday parties — also remains sealed in a single-serve package until it is opened at the table.
The gluten-free cheese pizza is $5.99, the same price as the made-in-store pizza of the same size. The cupcake is $2.99 in the United States and $3.49 in Canada.
Elliot spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the process of producing the new menu items.
What is the benefit of having these gluten-free products?
The special handling instructions have been taken pretty much out of the equation, and that’s been put back on the manufacturer. Since the pizza is baked in the bag and the cupcake is served in a sealed container, for us as operators, it’s a very simple process.
Did you have grand plans for a gluten-free menu?
It wasn’t something we necessarily set out to do or envisioned. It was something over the last couple of years that’s as much out of social networking, which allowed moms — our guests — to inquire about what we can do and can’t do for their special needs. But as we got more and more requests for dietary concerns, certainly gluten-free has emerged as probably the most prominent.
How did you find these specific products?
Over the past several years, I went to a number of trade shows, sussing out what’s in the marketplace. And then I educated myself on what the concerns might be for those consumers. I did have some personal experience. My wife had grown a little gluten intolerant and needed to experiment with some stuff at home. That was eye-opening and really let me know what was good in the marketplace and what was lacking.