Shakey's Celebrates 50 Years of Eatertainment

Fifty years is a long time for a company to stay in business, especially in the restaurant industry. This year Shakey's Pizza is celebrating its 50-year anniversary.

Shakey's was founded in 1954 in Sacramento, California, by Sherwood "Shakey" Johnson and Ed Plummer. It is believed to have become the first franchised pizzeria chain. It probably holds another first: the originator of the eatertainment concept that incorporates game rooms with food. Yes, that's 25 years before Chuck E. Cheese's opened.

The business came to be when "Shakey" Johnson pooled his $3,400 with that of a college friend, Ed Plummer, to open the first Shakey's. The building was a remodeled grocery store located at 57th and "J" Street in Sacramento. The parlor opened on Friday evening, April 30, with $1.85 in the till and the two owners and their friends as servers. As the ovens were not complete, no pizza was sold the first weekend, only beer. Johnson played the piano and entertained, and Plummer served beer.

With money from the beer sales, the partners bought pizza products and began selling pizzas on Monday. Ten days later, they had 14 employees, and a month later, Dixieland jazz entertainment was added.

With the success of the first restaurant, Johnson and Plummer opened a second Shakey's two years later in a remodeled mattress factory on Foster Road in Portland, Oregon. The Shakey's name and concept were already familiar due to the nightly jazz radio program they sponsored. In 1957, Shakey's became one of the first food service companies to begin franchising. The franchise units also introduced a standard Shakey's building design. Prior to this, the restaurants had always been located in existing remodeled structures. Johnson retired a multimillionaire in 1967 (at which time there were 272 Shakey's restaurants across the United States) when he sold his half of the company to the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company of Denver, Colorado.

An early Shakey's Pizza

A more contemporary Shakey's

Shakey's began to expand outside the United States in 1968 with the opening of restaurants in Winnipeg and Manitoba, Canada, in February of 1968. Expansion then went southward with the opening of the Mexico City restaurant in May of 1968. The first Japanese restaurants opened in Osaka, Tokyo, in July of 1973. Expansion continued with restaurants opening in Santoloc, Manila, and Rizal, Philippines, in 1975.

A year later (1968) the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company of Denver merged with the Great Western Sugar Company to form Great Western United Corporation. In that year, Plummer sold his half interest to Great Western United Corporation and retired. The chain was then 325 restaurants strong. Hunt International Resources acquired Shakey's, Inc., in 1974.

Gary Brown and Jay Halverson, former Shakey's employees who became franchisees, purchased Shakey's Incorporated in 1984, and in 1989 sold the chain to Inno-Pacific Holdings Ltd., a Singapore-based company.

The Jacmar Companies, the largest franchisee with 19 restaurants, recently purchased the company from its struggling parent, Inno-Pacific Holdings.
Jacmar plans to expand the chain and move it back into the national spotlight.

In the 1970s, Shakey's had over 500 restaurants. Since then, it has suffered a serious decline, down to currently 61 franchised restaurants in California.

Shakey's is testing store design upgrades and new food items, including fresh entrée salads and rotisserie chicken. The chains traditional menu consists of thin-crust pizzas, fried chicken, seasoned "Mojo" potatoes and salads.