Do you remember? Showbiz Pizza Place!

Mitzi Mozzarella, Billy Bob and Fatz Geronimo of Showbiz Pizza Place’s Rock-Afire-Explosion pose with Santa Claus in this Cullman Tribune file photo.

Many businesses and restaurants have come and gone in Cullman over the years, but for kids of the 1980s, one particular place was the most awesome hot spot. ShowBiz Pizza Place was the coolest party place in town. Move over Chuck E. Cheese, The Rock-Afire Explosion is forever etched in the memories of every kid who entered the doors of the greatest pizza place ever! 

Located where Auto Zone is today, the southeast corner of U.S. Highway 31 and Arnold Street, ShowBiz opened in the early 1980s and was a dream place for kids. During a time when arcades were all the rage, ShowBiz had a large game room with all the best games: Galaga, PacMan, Q-Bert, Dig-Dug, Centipede, Tron….it had them ALL! If you wanted tickets to redeem for prizes, Skee-Ball and Whac-A-Mole were the best places to sink your golden tokens. 

But over in the dining area was the main attraction. When the stage curtains opened, there they were! The Rock-Afire Explosion! Billy Bob, Mitzi Mozzarella, Fatz Geronimo, Dook LaRue, Rolfe DeWolfe and Looney Bird would emerge and cause a dilemma. Finish your game or catch the rockin’ show? The robotic stage show delighted everyone. 

ShowBiz was set up like a fancy dinner theater with the stage and dining area separate from the game room area. Families could eat and watch the show without being interrupted by a stampede of kids or being hit with a rogue ball from the giant ball pit. Brilliant! 

As a kid in the 1980s, there was nothing greater than opening a birthday invitation and seeing “ShowBiz” written as the location.

Leanne Harden West was just 15 when she got her first job as a birthday party hostess at ShowBiz.

“We’d have it all set up with tablecloths, plates and balloons,” she said. “You would take their orders and serve them their pizza. When it was time for the cake, you would go recruit somebody that worked with you to be Billy Bob.” 

West said it was important to push the button that would stop the shop from starting when Billy Bob was visiting with the kids.

She laughed, “It was supposed to look like Billy Bob came off stage during his break to say happy birthday to you.”

During the stage show, Billy Bob and friends would perform popular songs everyone knew.

West recalled, “When I worked there, I know they played ‘Desperado’ and ‘Magic Carpet Ride.’ That’s the only two I remember off the top of my head.”

Sometimes there were technical difficulties and the animatronics would malfunction.

“The characters would stop and the music would be playing so you’d have to run and push the button and close the curtain.”

West admits to forgetting to push the button during a visit by Billy Bob.

She chuckled, “Billy Bob was down there singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and then, all of a sudden, the curtains open and there he was. I had to make up a story that it was his brother Bobby Joe filling in for him. I was panicking.”

Kim Puckett loved ShowBiz and especially remembers celebrating her birthday party there in the fourth grade.

“It was awesome!” she said. “The pizza was good and all those games. It was great.” 

Sometimes West would be the one wearing the Billy Bob costume.

“We had two Billy Bob suits. One was older and one was newer and looked better. It had a fan in the head but it never worked and it was hot,” said West. “I could only see through the mouth so you had to have someone guide you. The feet were so long it was like walking in skis.”

The pizza was pretty good, too. Showbiz offered a buffet during select hours and the employees were allowed to eat what was left.

“We’d take the pizza to the back and eat around the dishwasher. It was a fun place to work,” West said. 

Before leaving, everyone had to stop by the prize counter to trade in their hard-earned tickets. You certainly couldn’t leave without a new Chinese yo-yo or some neon jelly bracelets. Did anyone ever actually earn enough for the remote-controlled car? If you chose to hang on to your old ShowBiz tokens or tickets, find them. They are considered collector’s items now and might be worth more than you think. Certain ones are valued from $5-$45 online. 

In 1984, Showbiz purchased Pizza Time Theatre, Inc., a company with a robotic stage show of its own, the star of which was named Chuck E. Cheese. The two stage shows were combined, and eventually, the whole chain of Showbiz Pizza Places was rebranded as Chuck E. Cheese. Poor Billy Bob and Fatz were forced into retirement, but for kids of the 80s, they will always be legends. 

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