The Tennessee Restaurant With Over 100 Animatronic Chickens

Animatronic diners walk a fine line. For some, they elicit nostalgic feel-good memories of oily pizza and (equally greasy) arcade machines. Others have long feared these robotic animal creatures — ones with eyes that can't ever seem to blink simultaneously — and being trapped with them after dark. 

Yes, picturing the Chuck E. Cheese gang, including Helen Henny, Mr. Munch, and Jasper T. Jowls, can bring tears of both sentimentality and dread, depending on which side of the line you reside. Even those hillbilly bears from Disney World's Country Bear Jamboree, as innocuous as they appear, are still a tad unsettling (we're looking at you, Wendell). But when did these diners start emerging, and are they still present today?

Chuck E. Cheese was the first animatronic diner to enter the pizza and arcade franchise in 1977. It was originally named Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre and featured rides, coin-operated arcade games, ball pits, playgrounds, and animatronic shows. However, following a split in ownership, a new diner named ShowBiz Pizza Place opened in 1980. Despite the wild popularity of both animatronic restaurants throughout the '80s, ShowBiz could no longer keep their doors open; in 1992, all stores were rebranded into Chuck E. Cheese.

Although animatronic diners have declined, a few are still around, like the Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse and Café in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The Frizzle Chicken provides guests with their own chicken coop-themed diner, including over 100 singing animatronic chickens (and that gimmicky '90s happiness). 

Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse and Café brings more to the table than just nostalgia

Since 2017, the Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse and Café has been Pigeon Forge's king of the coop. The restaurant was inspired by an actual Frizzle, a specific breed of chicken with coiling feathers. The idea of the Frizzle is also its main attraction, as the restaurant has over 100 animatronic Frizzle chickens that sing — er, we mean cluck — to recognizable songs. Dine in, and you can see "HENs Solo," "Dolly PartHEN," and "Ellen DeHENeres" (along with a few other punny names) perform songs like "Sweet Home Alabama" from their coop.

"It's one of those places that not many people know about. I think what you're going to find is you come kind of for the fun, but you're gonna come back for the food," said Ellen Liston, an associate with Frizzle Chicken, through WVLT 8

The Frizzle Chicken specializes in chicken-based foods — mainly omelets, chicken and waffles, and chicken tenders. However, its primary focus is fun. While parents relive their childhood pizza/arcade days with the surrounding animatronic animals, the younger crowd is entertained by bear-shaped pancakes and the roosters' rendition of Disney's "Let It Go." The Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse also names its ever-changing Chicken of the Month on Facebook, where the honored animatronic showcases its unique traits and style.

"Atmosphere was family friendly. Singing chickens were entertaining," one visitor commented on Tripadvisor. "Food was pancakes anywhere." 

Animatronic diners are still heavily intertwined with pop culture

While the Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse is going strong, most diners have called it quits over the years. Even Chuck E. Cheese, who had a monopoly on the animatronic restaurant industry, couldn't escape its inevitable decline. In 2017, the company announced a global remodeling that would replace most animatronics with costumed mascots. But don't worry; you can still experience that eerie feeling of visiting a '90s animatronic diner, which might be more horror-centered than you think. 

Five Nights at Freddy's (FNAF) has reigned as one of the top-grossing indie video horror games since 2014. Scott Cawthon, the brilliant mind behind FNAF, was inspired by ShowBiz and Chuck E. Cheese when creating Freddy Fazbear's Pizza and wandering cast. The first-person game follows a nighttime security guard who must survive five fearful nights of being hunted by the restaurant's evil animatronics. Think "Toy Story" but in the worst possible way.

Between FNAF and Hulu's short film "The Hug" (2018)variations of one popular face continuously find their way into this niche genre. Who better to elicit fear from viewers than ShowBiz's Billy Bob Brockali himself? While it hasn't been confirmed, many fans theorize that Cawthon was inspired by Brockali when creating FNAF's lead character Freddy Fazbear. Pandory, the menacing animatronic from "The Hug," also shares a near uncanny resemblance to ShowBiz's single-toothed mascot. Hopefully, Billy Bob's Wonderland in Barboursville, West Virginia, is the last physical Billy Bob Brockali animatronic we'll see.