Atari, Chuck E Cheese . . . uWink?

Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, Chuck E Cheese, and more than a dozen other game-related ventures (including many lovable duds like AG the Talking Bear) plans to open the first of his game-themed restaurant outlets called uWink Bistro in Woodland Hills, California this morning.

Bushnell spent $10 million over 4 years on building the chain and technology, which is a group of restaurants where customers play games and order food from touch-screen tables, which are all connected over a network. It sounds a little too Max Headroom 80’s-style for me, but what would you expect from the guy who created Pong — and who could have predicted huge mechanical rats could sell so much pizza?

Bushnell no longer owns any part of the publicly-traded Chuck E Cheese — he left when it was in bankruptcy – and now is a profitable restaurant chain traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Perhaps this is his way to get in on the missed action. I interviewed Bushnell earlier this year for Red Herring and he said uWink emerged out of his belief that games can ease social interaction. He thinks games are such a cure-all he plans to open game-themed schools in low-income areas (really, no joke).

He’s also one of my favorite entrepreneur interviews ever — he has one crazy idea after the next, his ideas are completely nontraditional and unfundable by VCs, and yet he has had a few large successes. He sold Atari to Warner Communications in 1976 for $28 million. Though he also told me he regrets selling Atari too early and seems to miss out on the pay outs of the really big wins. I have a feeling uWink won’t be one of those massive hits, but if anyone in the area has a chance to check it out, send us your thoughts and photos.


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