T-Rex Is Coming!

No, dinosaurs haven't been cloned, and Jurassic Park isn't coming to your neighborhood. But prehistoric dining with dinosaurs is on the horizon. Steve Schussler, the creator of Rainforest Café, has signed deals to open T-Rex, his new concept restaurant with an edutainment flair, in both Mall of America and Legends, a new Kansas City, Kansas, shopping and entertainment complex.

The $10 million, three-story T-Rex restaurants will occupy 20,000 square feet. Diners will choose from an eclectic menu while dinosaurs, including T-Rex herself (hey, girl dinosaurs could be ferocious, too!) will come to life in prehistoric theatrical settings including meteorite displays, flying pterodactyls, geysers, waterfalls and ice caves. A retail area will feature 5,000 items. The edutainment will have children participating in 20 activities including dinosaur digs with paleontology students on hand to educate the children about the artifacts they unearth. T-Rex will host 3,000 students a week for school field trips and there will be at least six private party rooms.

Schussler has teamed up with Rich Melman from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in Chicago, one of the country's top restaurateurs who created concepts like Maggiano's, Corner Bakery, Tucci Benucch, Twin City Grill, Wildfire and many more. The first T-Rex is projected to open next May at Mall of America.

Schussler's started the Rainforest Café chain in 1994 and grew it to 38 restaurants. The company was sold in 2000 to Landry's Seafood Restaurants for only 57¢ on $1 of stockholders equity and at less than book value.

It will be interesting to see if T-Rex incorporates the cost of the entertainment (and edutainment) into the food cost, the downfall of most theme restaurants, or if it actually charges for the entertainment offerings. There is also the issue of whether the prehistoric theatrical presentations in the restaurant will be too scary for very young children, which certainly won't bode well for attracting its primary target market of families.