Following the great day at Disneyland to celebrate my friend Robert Shadbolt’s birthday, our group decided on dinner at Anaheim’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant. The chain of Bubba Gump restaurants takes it’s name and inspiration from the 1994 Forrest Gump film originally directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks in the title role. As a themed restaurant, Bubba Gump offers a seafood dining menu in addition to a themed gift shop and effectively offering a unique way to keep the spirit of Forrest Gump alive and well in the mind of consumers long after the original theatrical run of the film.
According to the press kit, Paramount Pictures originally approached Rusty Pelican Restaurants, Inc. about extending the brand of Forrest Gump into the realm of casual family dining. And by 1996, the very first Bubba Gump Shrimp Company themed restaurant opened it’s doors in Montery, California. The company specifically targets tourist destinations for their restaurants, such as the Anaheim location which is a couple of blocks away from Disneyland, and other locations including Universal’s City Walk in both Hollywood and Orlando, Times Square in New York, Pier 39 in San Francisco, and the Mall of America in Minnesota. Bubba Gump is Paramount’s most successful foray into themed restaurant licensing, but wasn’t the first.
Paramount’s first venture into licensing one of it’s entertainment properties into restaurants was with it’s popular Cheers television program. In the case of Cheers, which originally was based on an actual bar in Boston, called the Bull & Finch. The exterior of the Bull & Finch was used as the exterior for the television show, and eventually to ease confusion, the bar assumed the name of Cheers as fans of the show sought out the bar. And due to fans taking just about everything that wasn’t nailed down, it showed there was a demand for licensed merchandise and soon the bar was sporting a merchandise shop as well.
Additionally, in partnership with Host Marriott Corporation which operates food and beverage services in airports and hotels licensed Cheers to take the bar to several locations outside of Boston. In fact, my very first legal purchase of alcohol was one of these Cheers themed restaurants in the Vancouver Airport where I was 20 at the time, legal to purchase alcohol in Canada, but not yet in the United States. I even purchased the mug as a souvenier to commemorate the occasion. Although now the Cheers restaurants are down to only the original Bull & Finch location and one other in Boston where the inside was modeled after the television series set, it still offers online merchandise sales for those still interested in Cheers merchandise and don’t have an opportunity to visit Boston.
Paramount didn’t just stick with Forrest Gump and Cheers as an opportunity to create a themed opportunity for merchandise and food sales, one of their more interesting ventures was definitely my favorite of their ventures, the Star Trek: The Experience that was at the Las Vegas Hilton from 1999 to 2008. In addition to Star Trek themed adventures, a museum of props, there was a restaurant modeled after Quark’s Bar from the series Deep Space Nine, and of course, the requisite Star Trek themed merchandise shops. The Star Trek Experience was always a destination for me on every visit to Las Vegas during the years it was open. While I felt the food was overpriced, I always made a stop there. It’s since shut down, as the operators Cedar Fair and the Las Vegas Hilton could not come to an agreement on the renewal of the lease for the space. Although the Star Trek Experience is allegedly supposed to be returning to Las Vegas in 2010 at the Neonopolis in downtown Las Vegas, but no signs of any construction have been reported as of January 2010.
Personally, I think Paramount Pictures has been really smart to extend its entertainment brands into the world of food services as a unique way to capture the experience of some of their properties and allow the public to immerse themselves into the respective theme during the course of their meal. Whether it’s bringing the charm of the American South’s love affair with seafood, the feeling of a bar where everyone knows your name, or a meal inspired by the final frontier, Paramount has managed to extend their brands into the physical world allowing its guests to feel like they’re part of the respective universe of the theme and they can buy the T-shirt (as well as the DVDs) in the gift shop to take that experience home.
Probably the Bubba Gump extension of the Forrest Gump property is the most surprising success of the bunch. What easily could have been a movie that came and went during it’s theatrical run, has turned into a property that’s stayed relevant more than a decade past its original run. Even though Forrest Gump is a fictional character and in the course of the film he finds his way into some of the most interesting experiences of his generation, the restaurant has taken on a success and a life of its own. The company that operates the restaurants is continuing to grow even though Forrest Gump as a movie has been long gone from the multiplexes. It’s seen expansion success where the Cheers and Star Trek themed restaurants have not. It’s like the restaurants have defied expectations just like the Forrest Gump character that inspired them.
In any case, for our group, the Forrest Gump theme was a further entertaining choice to compliment our day at Disneyland. We tried several of the items on the menu, even browsed through the shop while we waited for a table. Could we have gone to another restaurant? Sure, but most of the other choices were ones we could enjoy anywhere, we selected Bubba Gump because they aren’t everywhere and it sounded like fun. Not bad for a restaurant that got its start from a movie studio seeing if a restaurant operator would like to collaborate on a licensed themed restaurant.