Themed restaurants were once all the rave in investing circles. In the late 1990s, shares of Rainforest Cafe soared and Planet Hollywood proved to be a star-studded IPO as the chains aggressively built out their high-volume eatery empires.
There was a problem, though. Patrons were willing to line up and feast on eye candy at new locations, but the atmospheric gimmickry grew old. Comps fell; it was only a matter of time before Planet Hollywood would file for bankruptcy protection, and Rainforest Cafe would accept a buyout offer from Landry's Restaurants
Old trends have a funny way of creeping back into fashion, though. Steve Schussler, the mastermind behind Rainforest Cafe, announced that he was teaming up with privately held Levy Restaurants to launch a new themed restaurant concept called T. Rex.
With cascading waterfalls and robotic critters, the concept doesn't seem too far off the mark from Schussler's original creation. This one takes a prehistoric bent, with ice caves, fossil dig sites and bubbling geysers. The dinosaur-themed dining and shopping concept will debut in Kansas City next year, with seven more locations to follow.
Schussler isn't the only one keeping busy by dreaming up new concepts. Last year, Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl opened a new casual eatery, Earl of Sandwich, at Disney's
For investors, buying into high-volume concepts doesn't have to mean taking a flier on eatertainment. Companies like Cheesecake Factory
Then again, it's also good to see some colorful personalities like Schussler back in the mix. He was willing to convert his entire home into a Rainforest Cafe prototype, complete with live monkeys, to line up willing investors. It just goes to show you -- just when you figure theme eateries have gone extinct, a T. Rex is born.
Some other morsels from the eatertainment menu:
- Read up on the Rainforest that couldn't be saved.
- I had an interesting time covering Planet Hollywood's last annual meeting in 1999.
- Rainforest Cafe parent Landry's was looking to gamble on more than just themed dining.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has eaten at all of the themed chains mentioned in this story. He owns shares in Disney and Cheesecake Factory. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks today.