Every so often I come across something in my collection that I hadn’t paid much attention to in the past but when I rediscover it I become fascinated and wanted to know more about it.
This is a matchbook for a place called Abra K Dabra. There were only two locations listed and it advertised “PIZZA MAGIC.”I had to know what this was all about.
I got a lot more than I could have possibly. imagined. What I got was a story about a bargain department store looking to expand their empire, the rise and collapse of an entire niche industry and magic, magic, magic.
After doing some cursory research, I found a blurb in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from Sunday, June 27, 1982:
K-mart Corp. is testing a new family restaurant concept featuring pizza and magic in the St. Louis Area. The company has opened two of the restaurants, called Abra K Dabra for their magic theme, at 1899 Edwardsville Road in Wood River, Ill., and at 5 Flower Valley Shopping Center in Florissant (MO). Both are adjacent to K mart discount department stores.
The restaurants feature pizza, sandwiches, salad, ice cream, beer, wine and soft drinks. Magic shows, filmed and live, are to be presented. There are token-operate video arcade games, a playroom for young children and a computerized piano bar for adults.
K-mart was looking to capitalize on the success of the success of Pizza Time (the parent company of Chuck E Cheese) and Showbiz Pizza which both used the pizza/arcade/family entertainment model.
In May, classified ads ran in the local papers looking for managers. few weeks later the newly hired managers were instructed by K-mart to look for teenagers that could both be severs and magicians for the crowds. A K-Mart executive said that the number one qualification for hiring the teenagers is that they be “nice kids.” Their potential as magicians come second.
The two locations opened on June 17th, 1982 to fanfare and pizza(zz).
But Abra K Dabra wasn’t just trying to corner the market on family entertainment, they were trying to attract adults with a new technological concept.
This brief article, “K-mart Puts Vid in Pizza Parlors” by Laura Foti that appeared in the August 7, 1982 issue of Billboard explains what K-mart was trying to accomplish.
“K-mart has found a unique way to use video clips from record companies. The retail chain is testing the clips in two in-store restaurants in St. Louis, with other locations possibly to follow.
The video clips, supplied by record companies through Handleman Co., the racker, are shown on large-screen television in the evenings. During the day, when the patrons are mostly family-oriented, K-mart’s Abra K Dabra pizza restaurants show magic acts, either live or on tape. But in the evening, according to Handleman’s Stephen Strome, “We want to attract a different crowd.”
Hence the decision to go with rock music. The record companies are thanked at the beginning of the tape, and K-mart’s own record department, the Music Place is plugged at the end.
The program, according to K-mart’s director of research Mike Wellman, is “in the early stages of development. We’ve been working with the record companies, and they’re very cooperative.”
Unfortunately for Abra K Dabra, they were doomed from the beginning. In 1983, family entertainment pizza places reached their saturation point and the bottom fell out quickly.
I haven’t found the numbers from Abra K Dabra, but Pizza Time, which had a record revenue of $99.3 million in 1982, lost over $6 million in the first few months of 1983 and had nearly $16 million in losses and write-offs of over $35 million in the fourth quarter of 1983. Showbiz Pizza also reported a loss that year. Abra K Dabra didn’t last until the end of 1983. Both locations were closed quickly in October or November with
no fanfare. (EDIT: The Wood River store actually DID close with fanfare, as a young man actually chained himself to the inside of the pizza place, in hopes that they would not close it.)
Ultimately, the market was hurt by expensive but poor quality food, too many similar restaurants in the same market, bored parents that never grasped the video concept, and the changing taste of children who made up most of their business.
Abra K Dabra was quickly forgotten, a failed experiment in a changing time. The K-mart empire moved on without much of a hitch…for a while at least.