The internet is a vast well of (often extraordinarily idiotic) conspiracy theories, some of which are so convincing that they creep out from their remote corners of the web to hook the attention of millions on social media.
That’s what happened this week when a YouTuber who deals heavily in exactly this kind of content, Shane Dawson, surfaced an old theory about Chuck E. Cheese pizzas and their mysterious crusts. Namely, why the hell don’t they ever seem to match up? It’s a question that can be traced back at least a decade and has led to theories over whether the chain “recycles” its pizza slices in one form or other to avoid throwing them out.
In the video, Dawson stated that on one occasion he was served a single veggie slice. He also claimed that he knew someone in high school that worked at Chuck E. Cheese who would neither confirm nor deny that this was happening but said it happened at one point in time. He added: “But she also could have been lying, and who knows.”
Let’s first break down what exactly is meant by “recycling” in this peculiar yarn. The idea, according to Dawson, is that employees of Chuck E. Cheese take slices from uneaten pizzas and place them on a tray together to form a new pie. Commenters in an old Yahoo Answers thread also suggested myriad other theories, with one particularly wild one by an anonymous poster suggesting uneaten pizza “goes back into a dough grinder and eventually gets reserved as part of a new pizza.”
As you can imagine, doing any of these things would violate more than a couple of health regulations. Chuck E. Cheese denied any such “recycling” goes down at its restaurants in a statement and on Twitter this week after the video went viral. (It had nearly 17 million views as of Wednesday evening.)
“The claims made in this video about Chuck E. Cheese’s and our pizza are unequivocally false,” a spokesperson for the company told the Verge. “No conspiracies here—our pizzas are made to order and we prepare our dough fresh in restaurant, which means that they’re not always perfectly uniform in shape, but always delicious.”
The dough-related response is, hm, not completely addressing what people seem to believe is happening here. The theory is not that the pizzas aren’t made in-store, but that they’re being thrown together either from leftover buffet slices or—and again, this seems incredibly unlikely given health code restrictions as well as the fact that it would be hard to keep a lid on this—from served and uneaten pies.
Several theories by the Gizmodo staff attempted to make sense of the pizza conundrum, including that—as was stated by the company in its statement—these pies just aren’t totally round all the time, thereby creating symmetry problems when they’re transferred to serving trays:
One theory also involved a scenario in which employees trimmed uneven or weird-looking pizza slices to make them appear more like a conventional slice (though it seemed highly unlikely that Chuck E. Cheese employees would take great pains to maintain such a high bar for aesthetics). Per Eater, a response on Reddit by mlball98—who claims to have worked at a Chuck E. Cheese for two years—appeared to disprove this theory.
“Our pizzas look like that because they’re hand cut and no one is perfect at doing them,” mlball98 wrote. “We cut them as fast as we can because we’re usually busy with 5 more pizzas coming out of the oven.”
Another Gizmodo staffer suggested that the pies appear this way because the chain allows customers to order half-and-half pies, like half cheese and half pepperoni. (Chuck E. Cheese does do half-and-half pizzas, as an employee at one of the chain’s Brooklyn locations informed me by phone, cheerfully adding: “Any toppings!”) The thought was that maybe they’re just throwing them together as they come out.
This does appear to be the case in one pie shown in a Tuesday tweet by Dawson. In it, the two halves seem to be from two entirely unique pizzas of differing sizes. But mlball98 did not seem convinced, writing: “Honestly, I feel like Shane might have shifted the pizza to fit his narrative but I can’t prove it. I love him, but he does exaggerate a lot.”
Another redditor, Karou86, who claims to work at Chuck E. Cheese, said that part of the inconsistency with slices has to do with the “very large and kind of heavy” pizza slicer employees use that makes even slices a bit of a task. Then, when the pizza is transferred to serving trays, slices can start to look a little weird (as was shown in Gizmodo’s above graphics):
Usually, we’ll try to fix it so it’s all together and looking decent, but on the weekends when it’s packed and the kitchen is super backed up, we’re just trying to run the food as quickly as possible, resulting in pizzas that don’t look as good.
Karou86 also seemed to debunk the theory that two pizzas would be smashed together to create one, citing the speed with which employees are expected to keep it moving when they’re slammed. Also, cameras:
I don’t think anyone would be able to keep on pulling something like that for years without getting caught/getting too many complaints. Corporate is very strict and is constantly checking and pushing us to upsell everything, so if a store starts to dip in reviews/ratings/sales the district manager of the region will come in and investigate. Also they have a ton of cameras everywhere in the which they do a bunch of random audits on, so it would be really hard to do something like that.
The Washington Post noted Dawson has a history of extremely ill-advised and, in some past incidents, outright racist skits and video content. The YouTuber also claims his videos are intended for amusement, per the Verge. So it’s advisable here to take whatever claims are made in this or any other videos on Dawson’s channel with a grain of salt. (It appears YouTube’s effort to curb its rampant conspiracy theories is going over great.)
As for this pizza puzzle? Gizmodo made repeated attempts to reach a spokesperson of the chain’s parent company CEC Entertainment, Inc. by phone and email, but we haven’t heard back. We’ll update this post with whatever we learn if we do.
Update 2/14/18 6:00 p.m. ET: In a statement to Gizmodo, a spokesperson for Chuck E. Cheese said the company “absolutely” refuted Dawson’s claim that he knew someone who had knowledge of employees recycling pizza, adding: “Even he acknowledges that individual may not have been telling him the truth. Also, the restaurant industry is inspected frequently—no national restaurant chain could come close to having that as a business model.”
Asked whether Chuck E. Cheese restaurants combine different pies after they are baked, the spokesperson said: “Of course not. When a guest places an order, we make the pizza to the specifics of that order using one ball of freshly made dough formed into a crust with made to order toppings for example, half pepperoni, only cheese, etc., then cook it and cut it.”